Unprotected History: The Resignation of Zahi Hawass (UPDATED)

Amid the unrest in Egypt, there were a few stories of looters breaking into the Cairo Museum, but they were stopped and the artifacts suffered minimal damage all things considered.  I was happy to read that the citizens of Cairo stepped in to protect the museum, and I knew that Dr. Zahi Hawass would do what he could to protect the priceless artifacts under his care.  Dr. Hawass is deeply respected in Egypt and I believed that this respect would keep most looters from disturbing historic sites, and that appears to be the case.  There has been an increase in the amount of looting, but, again, everyone was confident that Dr. Hawass could handle it.

Everyone was wrong, however, and now people are beginning to turn on Dr. Hawass.  Employees upset that they are unable to be paid, looting and unlawful excavation of historic sites, and attacks on him coming from within the government led him to announced his resignation on March 3.  With that, Dr. Hawass released the following reasons:

“Yes, it is true. I resigned because of three main things:

1. During the earlier protests, Egyptian youths and the police protected the museums and monuments. Only the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was broken into and, thank God, all the important objects inside it were safe and only a few things were lost or broken. A report of exactly what is missing is still being compiled, however. Magazines were looted, but after initially appearing to get back to normal, the situation has recently become worse and there are many reports of thefts and illegal excavation.

2. Since the revolution, many people have continued to protest over other things, such as against me over jobs and salaries. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide everything that everyone is asking for. In the Ministry of State for Antiquities, we need money to protect sites and to restore buildings and objects too. We need the money brought in by tourists who visit our sites and museums to fund these things and, at the moment, there are no tourists.

3. Crooks in the Ministry and at the University of Cairo have started to attack me personally. I cannot stand this!

Most importantly, however, is that there are not enough police to protect the sites. I hope that my resignation will put pressure on the government to do something about this and also encourage the international community to do so as well.

The Egyptian antiquities that are on tour at the moment are safe and kept so with contracts. They are completely safe and when the police are back in force, everything here will be protected properly again too.”

Dr. Hawass is in a precarious position, but I fear his resignation is the wrong move.  I believe he still has the respect of the people of Egypt and the international community, all of whom understand the position he is in.  He is running out of money because tourists are not coming to Egypt and they are not coming to Egypt because of the unrest.  Meanwhile, looting has worsened and has expanded to other sites within Egypt.  None of this is the fault of Dr. Hawass, but he believes he is unfairly receiving most of the blame.

He feels that by resigning that he will draw attention to the lack of protection for Egypt’s antiquities, and the government will step in to increase protection.  The Egyptian government has bigger issues at the moment and and will probably ignore Dr. Hawass’s resignation to focus on the larger issues at hand.  Every government employee in Egypt has had to make difficult decisions since the unrest began in Egypt, and when it comes to protected Egypt’s past, I believe Dr. Hawass made the wrong decision by leaving it unprotected.

Source: USA Today

UPDATE: Read an Interview with Dr. Hawass HERE.

UPDATE 2: As of March 30, 2011, Dr. Hawass has returned as Minister.  Read more about it HERE.

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