Aaand he’s back

Zahi Hawass was reappointed Minister of Antiquities today. Interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had agreed to demands from ministry employees that Antiquities remain separate from the Culture Ministry. Faced with an aimless department with a power vacuum at the top, continuing thefts at archaeological sites generating a great deal of concern and UNESCO attention, plus a world-famous archaeological power player on the loose, he asked Hawass to return. He, of course, accepted.

Mr. Hawass, who has never been accused of being humble, said on Wednesday that he did not ask to come back, but that there was no one else who could do the job. “I cannot live without antiquities, and antiquities cannot live without me,” he said.

Pardon my rolling eyes. Anyway, he returns to the mess he left, and then some. Ministry inventories of the damage and theft from museums and ancient sites released two weeks ago of the losses from the Cairo Museum and the Tel El-Faraein storehouse found 81 artifacts missing, including four gilded statues of Tutankhamun.

A UNESCO delegate visited Egypt last week to see for himself the situation on the ground and to produce a thorough list of what’s gone missing so it can be published worldwide in an attempt to preempt stolen artifacts from turning up in antique stores and auctions. Some officials were made uneasy by the visit, thinking it smacked a little too much of foreigners coming to Egypt to show the hapless natives how to manage their cultural patrimony. Others were glad to have UNESCO’s help.

From both perspectives, Hawass’ return is an advantage. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s what spurred his reappointment.

“What we need now is the quick appointment of an antiquities leader,” Abdel Maqsoud [director of the central administration for antiquities in Alexandria and Lower Egypt] pointed out. To date, he says, no one knows who will meet with the UNESCO delegate. “It could be an archaeological team from the ministry of antiquities affairs or the Prime Minister Essam Sharaf or both – nobody knows yet,” confirmed Abdel Maqsoud.

On his part, Zahi Hawass, former minister of antiquity affairs said that he was requested by the assistant director general for culture, Franceso Bandarin to meet the UNESCO delegate. Hawass said that he will discuss with the delegate the recent status of Egypt’s antiquities and the amount of break-ins and loss, as well as the means to restituate [sic] such objects in the case they were smuggled out of the country.

He made clear that on several other occasions he rejected offers from UNESCO and other international organisations help to protect Egypt’s antiquities, calling the interference of any foreign country in the protection of Egypt’s heritage “antiquities colonisation.”

A top official in the ministry who requests anonymity told Ahram Online that Hawass cannot meet UNESCO delegate officially as he is no longer the antiquities minister, although he can meet the delegate as a professional archaeological expert in order to provide suggestions, the same as the former general director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Gaballa Ali Gaballa or any other archaeological expert.

That was Monday, March 21st. A week and a half later and here we are.

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17 Comments »

Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-03-31 09:05:31

It only hurts when I laugh! Italy, alas, is a mere shadow of itself when it comes to crazed Museum/Arts/Antiquities Czars—at least at the national level. Blame the economy? Blame Silvio? Blame the development of new academic specializations like “beni culturali”? I sometimes sense an insidious creeping nostalgia for the “grandi presenzialisti” of recent memory… This is the age of scared politcos (like Sandro Bondi) and beleagured professionals (like most of my friends).

 
Comment by Peeter
2011-03-31 09:08:51

There’s no denying that Hawass is a Czar. And there’s no denying that I hate his guts. But it seems that Egyptian archeology needs a strong leader right now. Hopefully that same leader will step down meekly when the danger has passed (although I strongly doubt this).

 
Comment by C.
2011-03-31 10:46:46

Yes I admit that in his own wacky, obnoxious way, he could be construed as being good at his job. He still makes me shudder when he opens his mouth. Surely somewhere, in this vast world, there exists someone else who could do this job too?

 
Comment by Sebastien
2011-03-31 11:03:56

Zahi Hawass is the Berlusconi of archeology. Rotten, but the roots go so deep their appointment is immovable. One of these days some resentful whistle-blower will make the news with an inventory of his personal collection, and no one will be shocked to learn that it includes a whole bunch of items from UNESCO’s list.

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-31 21:29:11

I sometimes sense an insidious creeping nostalgia for the “grandi presenzialisti” of recent memory… This is the age of scared politcos (like Sandro Bondi) and beleagured professionals (like most of my friends).

Well, they made the trains run on time, donchaknow, at least according to their own press releases.

Possibly irrelevant side-note: Are you familiar with Rodolfo Lanciani? Would you say he was one of the presenzialisti of bygone times, maybe even the first one of a unified Italy? I ask because I recently came across his Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries on Bill Thayer’s ever so dreamy website and found it riveting.

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-31 21:30:58

Hopefully that same leader will step down meekly when the danger has passed (although I strongly doubt this).

I think he’ll step down about a minute after he breathes his last.

 
Comment by edahstip
2011-03-31 21:54:29

I wanted to make a ‘trains run on time’ reference but couldn’t think of a suitable play on the word train.

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-31 22:01:04

My solution was to not even try.

 
Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-04-01 04:37:48

Wow!!! I never even heard of Rodolfo Lanciani but he was certainly a precursor of many things. I have been reading quite a lot of hype from the fascist period regarding the “repurposing” of Rome as capitol of the new Mussolinian Empire, but I see that many/most of the ideological pieces were already there. This also gives us a context for the early plans for the Altare della Patria/Vittorio Emanuele Monumento–which is the most startling expression of the royalist nationalist to fascist nationalist transition. “Oddly enough” (either everything or nothing is odd in history), the most grandiose pre-Mussolini interventions took place during the administration of Mayor Ernesto Nathan–who was Jewish, English-German in origin and died in 1921 (the year before the March on Rome)!

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-04-01 05:35:50

I have been reading quite a lot of hype from the fascist period regarding the “repurposing” of Rome as capitol of the new Mussolinian Empire, but I see that many/most of the ideological pieces were already there.

Yes! There’s the tough-on-crime element, cleaning the streets of the degenerate destitute, an unslakeable thirst for the city to take its rightful place among the great urban centers of modernity coupled with that nationalist classic: patterning yourself after the glorious past, (in this case both Renaissance and Ancient).

Meanwhile, I’m thinking that living in the attic room of the Arch of Titus is pretty much the greatest thing I’ve ever heard, pickpocketing or no pickpocketing. I didn’t even know there was a room up there! I want to see it so badly I could spit, I swear to you.

Also, I just happened to be reading The Count of Monte Cristo when I came across Lanciani’s marvelous polemic, and the criminals living and working in the ruins play a major part in the Rome chapters, which are so phenomenally great I can’t even describe in words how much I adore them.

One more thing, have you seen the Roma Sparita Facebook page? Because they have photo albums of vecchia Roma that are nothing short of opulent. The night I first found that page, I spent 8 straight hours going through picture after picture, and that was just in a couple of albums. To call it addictive is an understatement.

 
Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-04-01 08:50:15

MANY thanks for sending me to the “Roma sparita” page and many thanks also for the consumer warning. I jumped in a short while ago and suffered the history addict’s equivalent of insulin shock–and got the hell out while I still could. I have some traveling to do in the next few weeks but as soon as I can block a day, I will buy a bottle of something good and then jump back in. BY THE WAY,I assume that you know the Museo della Civilità Romana in the EUR (maybe you founded it in a past life?)

 
Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-04-01 08:59:38

BY THE WAY: For obvious reasons, I am not supposed to walk under the Arch of Titus. I hope that doesn’t mean that I can’t go live in it?!

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-04-01 15:57:53

MANY thanks for sending me to the “Roma sparita” page and many thanks also for the consumer warning. I jumped in a short while ago and suffered the history addict’s equivalent of insulin shock–and got the hell out while I still could. I have some traveling to do in the next few weeks but as soon as I can block a day, I will buy a bottle of something good and then jump back in.

You’re very welcome! I’m always delighted to drag other innocent victims down the rabbit hole with me. Make sure to alternate between the bottle of something and the hot cup of something, because night and day will blur into each other, guaranteed.

BY THE WAY,I assume that you know the Museo della Civilità Romana in the EUR (maybe you founded it in a past life?)

Yes indeedy. In fact, I lived in EUR from first grade to ninth when we finally moved closer to school so I could do afterschool activities without having to commute. I was hopelessly hooked on that giant scale model of the ancient city. I think I probably spent a combined year of my youth staring at it.

BY THE WAY: For obvious reasons, I am not supposed to walk under the Arch of Titus. I hope that doesn’t mean that I can’t go live in it?!

Certainly not! Because you’ll be on top of it, you see, not under it. It’ll be a total victory, the ultimate IN YO FACE to Titus, Paul IV and all the rest of those jackholes.

 
Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-04-01 17:54:53

WWTFJD?

(What Would Titus Flavius Josephus do???)

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-04-01 18:12:02

Take the attic room with gratitude, along with citizenship and a name change reflecting his imperial patronage?

 
Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-04-02 04:05:01

Then he would send Yoseph Ben Mattithyahu out to buy the bagels for brunch?

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-04-02 04:07:47

The best of both worlds!

 
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