Prolific writers with in-depth knowledge of ancient Egypt, Robert Bauval and Ahmed Osman have teamed up to produce a scathing indictment of former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass.
While the middle third of the book, some 118 pages or so, takes us back to a general history of Egyptian rule by foreign powers, the first and last third sections expose the recently dismissed Hawass, characterising him as a thief, braggart, opportunist, and government servant who frequently indulged in cronyism to further his own reputation.
We learn, first of all, that Hawass was schooled for his Ph.D. in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania with funding from the Edgar Cayce Institute, now called the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE). In fact, by pulling some strings, so to speak, he was given a Fulbright scholarship because Hugh Lynn Cayce, Edgar Cayce's son, knew an ARE person on the Fulbright scholarship board.
Bauval and Osman also point out that father Edgar had strong connections with some very high Freemasons. The Masons have always traced their mystery school heritage back to ancient Egypt. Understandably, they would be delighted if Edgar's prediction that an Atlantean Hall of Records were to be found underneath the Sphinx and the Pyramids.
Our authors continue, "Having said this, it must be strongly pointed out that Freemasonry has been banned in Egypt since 1964, and in the eyes of many (if not all) Arabs - especially staunch Islamists and anti-Zionists - Freemasonry is synonymous with Zionism and, consequently, loathed as an evil influence. Hawass - perhaps naively - let himself get deeply involved with the Edgar Cayce Foundation and its covert search for the Hall of Records at Giza, and in doing so, especially with the possible Masonic and `new world order' objectives of his patrons, could be viewed by some as placing Egypt's national security at risk."
When Hawass completed his Ph.D. in Pennsylvania in 1987, he returned to Egypt and was appointed general director of antiquities for the Giza Pyramids late that year. As time went on, Hawass became a favourite of Egypt's First Lady, Suzanne Mubarek. He was appointed to increasingly prestigious posts, not the least of which was head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
You'll remember seeing him on a variety of television shows, with his Indiana Jones-style Stetson hat and denim shirt, directing archaeological explorations and trying to keep us in suspense with the hope of finding important ancient artefacts, which he never really did. Funded by the National Geographic Society, the History Channel, Fox Network, the Discovery Channel, CNN, and others, Bauval and Osman estimate Hawass made a great deal of money from his TV-related exploits.
What we know now, since the overthrow of the Mubarek regime, is that the friendship between Hawass, Mrs. Mubarek, and other high-ranking Egyptian officials, "according to many legal complaints now lodged with Egypt's attorney general, resulted in the alleged siphoning or diverting of funds originally meant for archaeological facilities and restoration, as well as an upsurge in international black markets, as attested now by Interpol and other agencies involved in the prevention of antiquities trafficking."
As another Egyptian archaeologist said some years ago, "...we all know that our archaeology and monuments bring in more foreign currency than the Suez Canal, so where is all that money going?" One top official even resigned his post, claiming a government employee "mafia" clan controlled the Giza plateau for 20 years. He said he had discovered employees were involved in tomb robbing, "siphoning off ticket revenues, and tendering out restoration projects to favoured companies for commission money."
But then, in late January of last year, the revolution in Cairo began. Slogans by protesters in Tahrir Square in late May included: "No to Zahi Hawass!... Shut up Zahi Hawass!... The People Want Zahi Hawass to Go on Trial!... Hawass is a Thief!... A Spy for America!" In the interim months, Hawass had bounced around within Mubarek's cabinet, sometimes completely out, and sometimes back in power.
Finally, on 17 July 2011, the new prime minister dismissed Hawass from his post as Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs. The press reported that on 30 July, as he "walked out of the ministry's building for the last time, hundreds of protesters mobbed him, shouting... `thief, thief!' The security police barely managed to get Hawass into a taxi while protesters surrounded the vehicle..." But, the driver was able to get past the angry crowd, and Hawass was driven safely away to his home with nobody hurt.
As I said earlier, the middle portion of the book recounts a general history of Egypt. The authors show how many times the country, since ancient days, has been overrun by foreign powers who proceeded to loot its treasures - the Assyrians, the Persians, the Romans, the Ottomans, the French, the British, and many others.
It is also pointed out Egyptians themselves have done little to protect and preserve their ancient sites and artefacts. It's been primarily Western Europeans who explored, found, and then carted away many precious relics in order to keep them safe from local robbers who often used ancient stones for building their own structures, and even ground up mummies, selling the dust for its supposed medicinal value.
While Dr. Hawass may have begun with the intent of finding, protecting and preserving his country's archaeological heritage as a matter of pride for his nation, fame and greed and an inflated ego obviously caught up with him and subverted his initial mission. It is now up to the Egyptian people under a new government to carry the banner of continued discovery and preservation of their precious legacy. This is a crucial time in their history.
As Bauval and Osman conclude, "Egypt's future, and consequently the future of antiquities, hangs precariously in the balance. Time will tell in which direction it will go."
Even as I write this review, events are unfolding that shed more light on the situation in Egypt, as well as on the rest of the Arab world. The country's new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, on the eve of his first visit to the US and to the United Nations in New York, was quoted as saying the West "needed to fundamentally change its approach to the Arab world, showing greater respect for its values... if it hoped to overcome decades of pent-up anger." Mr. Morsi recently gave a 90-minute interview in Cairo with the New York Times, and I recommend you view the Times' 23 September article about that interview. It is relevant to our story about the past and current plight of archaeology in Egypt.
- This review first appeared in New Dawn magazine issue #135