Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Avenger of the Pharaohs

But there are often times when Hawass has to get up very early, skip his morning routine, brush his teeth and quickly eat a falafel before heading out into the countryside in his Jeep.

An Enigmatic Character

The reason he is so busy is that he has monopolized all PR activities relating to archaeology. Some 225 foreign archeological teams are working along the Nile, and all are kept muzzled. None of the professors working with the teams is permitted to report important finds without official approval. "It used to be a self-service operation here," says the boss, "but those days are gone."

Hawass reserves the right to announce all discoveries himself. Not everyone likes this. Some people feel that he is about as interested in serious research as Rapunzel was in having her hair cut.

He boasted that there were "10,000 golden mummies" at the cemetery in Bahariya, but only 200 were found. And he mistakenly declared a shabby find in the Valley of Kings to be the gravesite of a female pharaoh.

His own excavation efforts also appear to be somewhat bizarre. For some time, the master has been searching for the body of Cleopatra in a temple near Alexandria -- based on an idea suggested to him by a lawyer from the Dominican Republic.

"Are you sure about this?" a journalist wanted to know. Hawass replied: "Completely, otherwise I wouldn't have even mentioned it. After all, I don't want to embarrass myself."

When nothing was found, despite feverish excavation efforts, Hawass took a granite bust of Cleopatra's lover, Mark Antony, from a museum last year and pretended that he had just pulled it out of the ground.

Duncan Lees, a computer specialist who occasionally creates 3-D animations of grave shafts -- in other words, a relatively minor player -- calls him a "greedy guy" and a tyrant, who prefers to surround himself with "bootlickers."

The major Egyptologists, on the other hand, are more reserved, and tend to whisper their criticism. They are anxious not to lose their licenses.

Many in the field had been secretly looking forward to May 28, the day the narcissistic archeologist turns 63, which would normally be his retirement age.

But instead of being feted with a farewell dinner, Hawass has just received a new position. President Mubarak has appointed him Deputy Minister of Culture, which means that he can continue working until the end of his life.

Nevertheless, this enigmatic figure is by no means the sum of his negative traits. He has really achieved something.

With his frenetic public relations activities and his boundless vanity, Hawass has sparked a change in awareness among the 80 million Egyptians and sparked a new sense of pride.

Demanding the Return of Six Masterpieces

"For small farmers, the world used to revolve around Muhammad and the Koran," says Egyptologist Christian Loeben, from the northern German city of Hannover. "But then Hawass came along and managed to convince every fellah that the pharaohs are his heritage. I admire him for that."

It is precisely these successes that are causing so much trouble for museums in Paris, London, New York and Berlin. They are rattled by the tenacious revenge campaign of the self-proclaimed "guardian" of the Pyramids.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...