Thursday, March 03, 2011

Hawass: Please don't frow me in dat briar patch

In a marked shift from previous statements, Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass has indicated that the government is not able to protect Egypt's ancient monuments and he is considering resigning from his post. See

Just recently, Hawass had stated on his blog,

Throughout this ordeal, there have been people who have been completely dishonest, and have tried, through their statements, to make the situation worse, in some cases by accusing me (in vague terms) of various inappropriate or even illegal behaviors. Of course, as even these people themselves know, none of these accusations has any basis in reality. When I was first appointed Minister of Antiquities Affairs, I thought my tenure might be very short, given the political situation. I did not care; I was only glad that the antiquities service had finally been given independence, and would no longer be under the Ministry of Culture. However, these attacks have convinced me that it is important for me to stay, so that I can continue to do everything in my power to protect Egypt's cultural heritage. I have written to Egypt's attorney general, asking him to look into some of the false accusations that have been made against me. I believe that addressing these issues will help stabilize the Ministry of Antiquities Affairs.


One of the comments to the New York Times report suggests Hawass' latest statements are really just a ploy to encourage his supporters in the archaeological community to beg him to stay. It will be interesting to see if Western archaeologists take the bait.


It will be even more interesting to see whether Egyptian citizens take the bait. What is at stake here is, after all, not the opinions of Western archaeologists or anyone else outside Egypt, but instead what Egyptians themselves decide.

I have personally long believed that the lives of many Egyptians would benefit from a liberalization of their nation's antiquities laws, so that these laws might in a general way (with due allowance for the many national differences involved) be revised so as to conform to the British Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Egyptians should, in deciding their future, determine whether their nation's governmental institutions should be based upon continuation of the past repressive model, or upon a responsible and sensible transition toward liberal institutions. The past approach has at any rate offered stability, and that has very definite value. The challenge for the future approach is to progress from that stability toward something better.

I have long held the opinion that Western archaeologists have, in effect, imposed a tyranny of societal opinion upon "source states" such as Egypt in promulgating their philosophical doctrine that private collecting of antiquities is inherently immoral. Such a view is utterly inconsistent with the historical origins of archaeology, which would never have come into existence without the antiquarian collecting tradition that it descended from.

This is, truly, a question of a primeval overtly cultural Ouranos seeking to devour his intellectual children. Which event, should it unhappily succeed,would clearly result in societal catastrophe, as has every other attempt to recast human societal endeavors.

In determining their future, Egyptians now have a unique opportunity to break with the past and its outdated, culturally cannibalistic conventions, to reassess the question of how Egypt's past may best be exploited to serve the interests of present day Egyptians in a manner that responsibly protects and conserves the past, whilst intelligently providing for the present and a better future.

Now we must assess the role that Zahi Hawass and the cultural establishment he represents shall play in the transition from the Egyptian past to the Egyptian future. First and foremost, that should and must be determined by the thoughts and decisions of Egyptians. If Egyptians believe that Zahi Hawass and his regime are imposing the best possible approach in seeking to influence decisions Egyptians may take concerning management of Egyptian antiquities, I wish to present and seek consideration for a fair and sensible perspective of the views of Western collectors.

Their desire to preserve and collect minor antiquities from mankind's ancient past has come into stark conflict with concerns of archaeologists who believe that everything that might ever possibly have been interred must be reserved for their exclusive investigation, study, and possible eventual publication.

This view of the relationship between archaeology and the Egyptian past is in many respects evocative of the role of ancient Egyptian priests and the religious beliefs they promulgated, in contrast to realities of Egyptian life in the past and the present. No one should today believe that the Egyptian "man in the street" ever accepted the ancient priestly doctrine of human life and its theology-centric perspective of the afterlife and mandatory progression though religiously orthodox gradations from the utter misery of ordinary contemporary Egyptian existence, toward a Nirvana of sacrosanct sacred privileges, in the end centering only upon Pharaoh and what Pharaoh believed that his regime must have to ensure his happiness in the afterlife.

But today, it is utterly unclear what, if any, justification exists for a view that Egyptian antiquities have any higher purpose than the best interests of ordinary Egyptians in deciding their interests in such antiquities being made available to collectors and students of these antiquities, at the highest possible prices.

There will, no doubt, be acidulous comments from self-interested archaeologists regarding the existing market in antiquities, and the role that market would play in ensuring that Egyptians should receive fair value for their holdings. Suffice it to say that none of these critics have ever done or will ever do anything to defend collectors or collecting. Egyptians should realize that such individuals are by no means their friends, but that they intend to exploit them.

I also assert in complete confidence of my personal ability to demonstrate, that no individual involved in such archaeological criticism ever had a tithe of the scientific knowledge regarding numismatics that I possess, or that overall numismatic knowledge of the ancient coin dealership in general, which very considerably exceeds my own, possesses.

There are many quantifiable and scientifically valid ways to intelligently and responsibly assess demonstrable competence in this field of study, which none of the specious criteria that presently seem to satisfy "academic experts" in the discipline of ancient numismatics address. We have, therefore, a community of very well respected and well qualified experts whose critics, so far as I can intelligently assess their credentials, appear to be insubstantial.

I believe that it is important and relevant to observe that those who seek to attack private collecting of Egyptian antiquities, without regard to the individual motives involved in the antiquities concerned, tend to meet with an indescriminate antagonism which I would not oppose if fairly and responsibly based.

In the absence of any demonstrable evidence that Western archaeologists and their allies and fellow thinkers have anything of value to contribute to mankind's understanding of Egyptian history, let us see that evidence now. Failing which evidence, I believe that no such evidence exists.


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