The Unraveling of Zahi Hawass

Why is Zahi Hawass, once a celebrated National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, now an Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus?

He bet on the wrong horse. And so did the National Geographic Society.

August 3, 2011

CAIRO — An ailing Hosni Mubarak, who served longer than any ruler of modern Egypt until he was overthrown in a revolution in February, was rolled into a courtroom in a hospital bed on Wednesday and charged with corruption and complicity in the killing of protesters. The trial was a seminal moment for Egypt and an Arab world roiled by revolt.

Even the most ardent in calling for his prosecution doubted until hours before the trial began that Mr. Mubarak, 83, would appear, a reflection of the suspicion and unease that reigns here. As a helicopter ferried him to the courtroom, housed in a police academy that once bore his name, cheers went up from a crowd gathered outside.

“The criminal is coming!” shouted Maged Wahba, a 40-year-old lawyer.

The sheer symbolism of the day made it one of the most visceral episodes in modern Arab history. In a region whose destiny was so long determined by rulers who deemed their people unfit to rule, one of those rulers was being tried by his public. …

As a headline in a popular Egyptian newspaper read: “The Day of Judgment.”

Read the whole thing here.

February 6, 2011:

It’s no secret that we believe National Geographic should have cut ties with Zahi a long time ago. His public embrace of what he calls an Arabic “idiom” is a disgrace and an embarrassment to our Society — and to any society that celebrates freedom, human rights, and democracy.


When the leaders of a Society know who they are — and who they are not — it shows.

July 1943

  • Peter Lacovara

    Rupert Murdoch is alive and well.  A few clueless bloggers with an axe to grind styled Zahi Hawass as a “cultural Mubarak,”  and like sharks smelling blood in the water a feeding frenzy of distortions and hearsay has erupted in the press.


    Hawass has done tremendous good for the field, more than would have been
    imaginable just a few years ago.  He has
    professionalized and streamlined and ancient bureaucracy, created beautiful new
    museums, reinvigorated a moribund loan program, revived the Antiquities Service
    publications, restored and cleaned up numerous archaeological sites has trained
    a whole new generation of well trained professional Egyptian archeologists and
    popularized Egyptology and archeology as never before.

    No one in the history of the profession has ever done as


    People now criticize his innate showmanship , but he has always used it for
    the good of Egypt and the good of the Egyptology. 
    Naturally such accomplishments have provoked jealousy among Egyptian
    colleagues and foreign Egyptologists who still view Egypt through a colonialist

    -Peter Lacovara

    • Peter – Thanks for your comment, and for stopping by. 

      I’m not an archaeologist, and I’ve never been to Egypt, so I’m not qualified to speak about what Dr. Hawass has or hasn’t done for Egyptian antiquities. My concern is more about his relationship with National Geographic.

      Specifically: I don’t know why a person who says stuff like this  is on the NGS payroll… do you? What Zahi says is appalling and indefensible, yet he defends it anyway. 

      I’m also concerned about what exactly NGS was paying Zahi to do for $200,000 per year. If it was consulting, it would be helpful to see his work product. But if the Society was paying for access to Egyptian sites — well, I think that violates U.S. law & perhaps Egyptian law, too. 

      Dr. Hawass may have accomplished a lot. But the ends don’t justify the means. 

      I should also add that Hawass’s interview with the BBC in the midst of February’s uprising — the interview where he passionately comes to Mubarak’s defense — has to make you wonder exactly what Zahi Hawass is trying to preserve in Egypt. 

      In the end, though, my concern is not Dr. Hawass; it’s the well-being & future of the National Geographic Society. 


NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.