Zahi Hawass & The Big Pivot

Remember in February, during the democracy uprising in Egypt, when Zahi Hawass (a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence) doubled down on Egypt’s then-President Hosni Mubarak? Hawass argued passionately and very publicly that Mubarak needed to remain in power for the good of the Egyptian people.

So much for that angle.

Today, meet New & Improved Zahi, who is attempting what we’re calling The Big Pivot — a change in direction so radical, and made so quickly, that it’s a miracle he isn’t wearing a neck brace to treat whiplash.

Perhaps the best part of his extreme makeover (see below) is the challenge that New Zahi effectively poses to the National Geographic Society.

By Steven Viney
Monday, April 25, 2011  – 14:54

News about Zahi Hawass — a clothing line, an arrest, cash rewards for the safe return of antiquities — changes daily. But before he was pinned for a shady real estate deal, Egypt’s minister of antiquities had been focusing on celebrating the revolution that has stirred up so much trouble for him by curating a 25 January exhibition.

The exhibition will feature the work of several Egyptian contemporary artists in various media in order to reflect their views on the recent revolution. The art will be accompanied by a collection of photographs showing Tahrir Square and various revolution demonstrations, and will travel the globe as Hawass’ Tutankhamen and the Pharaohs exhibition did.

“For 5,000 years Egypt was ruled, until 25 January, by a pharaoh,” Hawass told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “It is a huge change in our history, and this exhibit will present the world with the new Egypt.” …

Though still in its embryonic stages, the exhibition is intended to start in Cairo, and travel through at least 10 European countries.

“I have already received many letters from countries — including Italy, Belgium and Spain — who are very interested to host this exhibition,” said Hawass. “It confirms my belief that the face of Egypt is changing, and people are interested to see it.”

The Tutankhamen and the Pharaohs exhibition stands in stark contrast to the subject material of the 25 January exhibition — a fact that Hawass is very excited about.

“Egypt has finally broken free from the prejudice that modern Egypt is the same as ancient Egypt. When people think of Egypt now, they will no longer only be thinking about camels and pyramids. Instead they will think about democracy, freedom and how the Egyptian people really feel – so for me it was obvious that the next exhibition should show it to them.” …

This revolution is now just as important to Egyptian history as Tutankhamen. Tahrir square is now extremely iconic of modern times in Egyptian history. To not include it would be a very poor recording of history on my part.”

Again: The democracy uprising is “as important to Egyptian history as Tutankhamen.” This from King Tut’s PR guy.

What do you make of that, John Fahey? Quite a statement, don’t you think?

Why doesn’t National Geographic — long gripped by Pharoah Phever — follow Zahi’s lead, and unleash its ample resources to cover “democracy, freedom and how the Egyptian people really feel”?

Imagine: We launch a huge Society-wide Democracy & Freedom tentpole that incorporates Zahi’s new exhibition, which we could bring to National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC. Publish a special issue of National Geographic magazine about democracy uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. Produce a major, hi-def, multi-part documentary series — sort of like Great Migrations, but interesting this time. You know, so people will actually watch the show and buy the companion coffee table book.

To make it easy for you, John, we’ve already cut the trailer.

This could be huge, John. This could be the moment that National Geographic turns the corner. This could be your Big Pivot to establish a NGS legacy that will make you, your children, and your grandchildren proud.

Otherwise, you may well be remembered as the guy who put National Geographic’s good name on air freshener and bedroom furniture… who used our Society to embolden thugs and dictators… and who sold our Society’s brand equity to Rupert Murdoch, who continues to trash our reputation by producing shows that make us all cringe.

You’re a better man than that.

Dear John,
Is it time for your Big Pivot?


  • Musicmanphotos

    I’ve long wanted to have a pair of NGM branded boxer shorts, with strategically placed yellow rectangle front and back, With the key phrase “With All That is In and Out of It” >:)- Musicman

    • No need for the smiley emoticon! You’re obviously a branding visionary — and I’m glad you’ve gone public with your idea here. That way, you can make a legal claim when NG partners with Jockey / Fruit of the Loom / Joe Boxer to bring your lucrative idea to market. 🙂

      • Therese

        John Fahey and the Board should be ashamed of themselves for what they have allowed to happen to the once-wonderful NG name. But, as long as there is money to be made on “Jersey Shore-like” TV shows and ridiculous branding, well, there is only one way to go and it isn’t up.

  • Pingback: Will the real Zahi Hawass please stand up? | Society Matters()

  • MSG

    Air freshener and furniture are nothing compared to NGS’s patronage and use of Zahi Hawass. While it’s done wonders for tourism, what it’s certainly not good for archaeology and Egyptology.

    • MSG – Your assessment of Zahi is clearly an increasingly popular one. But I rarely hear Egyptologists suggest who might serve as Zahi’s replacement. Who can serve tourism AND archaeology & Egyptology — and why hasn’t that person stepped forward? I’m no fan of Dr. Hawass, but I wonder if the “Not Zahi” campaign is enough to unseat him.

  • ssm

    It’s time to get rid of Hawass. He has badly mismanaged Egypt’s archeological sites. He ran the Department of Antiquities as his own private property by consolidating all decision-making in his own hands and making sure nothing gets done unless it promotes him personally.
    His dictatorial style should have been decried. Instead, National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel all played along just to get his permission to film at sites forbidden to the public and most researchers and scholars. They also had to put-up with his insistence at always being the star of their shows.
    As a scientist he is mediocre at best. He frequently says “I’m 100% sure.” when he should have said “I have a hunch”. He almost always jumps to conclusions before the experts had the time to complete their studies because he is trying to steal the limelight. He routinely takes the credit for the work of his subordinates, while being very quick to put the blame on them when he fails his own responsibility, such as securing Egypt’s museums before and after the Jan. 25 revolution.
    His only talents are to kiss-up to his higher-ups and to ride the wave no matter which way it goes.
    He can very easily be replaced. There are thousands of qualified Egyptologists, administrators and tourism experts in Egypt.
    Among Egyptians he is considered a clown, a weasel, and a corrupt and self-promoting despot.

    • SSM – Thanks very much for your comment. As you probably know, you are not alone in your assessment of Dr. Hawass. He clearly has made a lot of enemies, and his unflinching support of the Mubarak regime certainly didn’t help his cause. Yet, he survives. Why? Maybe you said it best: He “rides the wave no matter which way it goes.” 

      That said, I’ve heard rumbling lately that news is coming, in the next week or two, that might finally toss Zahi off that wave. Emphasis on “might.” Because as we both know, he never seems to really go away. 

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