According to a front-page story in the national edition of today’s New York Times, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s embattled Minister of Antiquities, “has decided to resign temporarily as a National Geographic explorer [Explorer-in-Residence] so that he can focus on protecting antiquities.”
Revolution Dims Star Power of Egypt’s Antiquities Chief
By Kate Taylor
Until recently Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s antiquities minister, was a global symbol of Egyptian national pride. A famous archaeologist in an Indiana Jones hat, he was virtually unassailable in the old Egypt, protected by his success in boosting tourism, his efforts to reclaim lost artifacts and his closeness to the country’s first lady, Suzanne Mubarak.
But the revolution changed all that.
Now demonstrators in Cairo are calling for his resignation as the interim government faces disaffected crowds in Tahrir Square.
Their primary complaint is his association with the Mubaraks, whom he defended in the early days of the revolution. But the upheaval has also drawn attention to the ways he has increased his profile over the years, often with the help of organizations and companies with which he has done business as a government official.
He receives, for example, an honorarium each year of as much as $200,000 from National Geographic to be an explorer-in-residence even as he controls access to the ancient sites it often features in its reports.
National Geographic first brought Mr. Hawass on as an explorer-in-residence, one of 16 it has around the world, in 2001 when he was director of the Giza pyramids. He has appeared in numerous National Geographic films about ancient Egypt, and the organization publishes some of his books and arranges his speaking engagements, for which he asks $15,000.
It is not clear how the National Geographic payments compare in size to Mr. Hawass’s government salary, which he would not disclose. National Geographic says it pays Mr. Hawass to advise it on major discoveries and help shape its policies on antiquities issues. It says it has never received preferential access to archaeological sites or discoveries.
Mr. Hawass said his impartiality was evident when the Discovery Channel won out over National Geographic in a bid to make films about DNA research on royal mummies.
“All proposals about films go before a committee,” he said in an e-mail, “and decisions are made to maximize both the scientific results and the profit for Egypt.”
But Mr. Hawass also said this week that he has decided to resign temporarily as a National Geographic explorer so that he can focus on protecting antiquities. …
Read the whole thing here.
We welcome Zahi’s resignation for many reasons. Then again, his saying that “he has decided to resign temporarily” could mean almost anything.
• He’s made the decision, but hasn’t actually resigned yet. And tomorrow is a new day. He could always change his mind.
• He resigns temporarily. Headlines! He returns to his ministerial position next Monday because… because the antiquities have been protected. Headlines! Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf announces his cabinet overhaul later this week — and Zahi remains standing. Or he gets tapped for an even more powerful position. Headline: Zahi Hawass: Survivor. And so on.
• His “temporary” departure is really permanent, and he knows it. But by saying “temporary,” he makes it sound as though duty calls, and that he needs to devote more of his time and energy to protect Egypt’s antiquities, legacy, and honor. Which makes us wonder: Why in the world would Zahi walk away from a lucrative deal with NGS (the Times says as much as $200,000 per year) when his arrangement with our Society, best we can tell, requires very little of Zahi’s time or attention?
Why is Zahi Hawass resigning?