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The Apotheosis of Zahi Hawass

April 17, 2011

Forget the Supreme Council. The History Channel knows who really rules Egypt. Photo courtesy of http://twitpic.com/4l6qg7

Wow. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Antiquities Minister, has it all. A cabinet post created especially for him by Mubarak that survived the purge. A reality show on a US cable network available throughout many parts of the world (including the Middle East, via Nilesat).  A Facebook fan page and a fan web page. A column in Egypt Today. And now–a line of men’s designer clothing.

Okay, I’ll admit it. When we were back in Cairo in summer of 2010 I briefly thought about buying my (then) 7-year old son a Zahi Hawass hat. One of the students had bought an Indiana Jones hat, and he and Jaden took turns wearing it throughout our trip. As it got close to time to leave, I thought about getting Jaden his own hat–and there they were in the American University in Cairo Bookstore for EGP 400 (about USD $55). It’s a brown fedora identical to Indiana Jones except that it has a Zahi Hawass label on it.

Then I found out he had his own clothing line opening in its own trendy shop in Harrods department store in London. Billed as “the brawny new look for men” it’s the brainchild of Lora Flaugh, President and Founder of Art Zulu designs. The Art Zulu web site says:

Exploration and adventure are the undercurrents of this collection, and each piece is designed with a utilitarian approach. The ZAHI HAWASS line is carefully crafted to convey a sense of time and place.

ZAHI HAWASS is a novel fashion line not just for the traveling man, but the man who values self-discovery, historicism and adventure. Rich khakis, deep blues and soft, weathered leathers give off a look that hearkens back to Egypt’s golden age of discovery in the early 20th century.

The ZAHI HAWASS vision can only be fully realized in an environment that matches the grandeur and classicism of Egypt. …More than anything else, the proposed ZAHI HAWASS collection and shop will be a retail experience that evokes the beauty of Egypt through its décor, and invites consumers to pack their suitcases and journey to the exotic locale.

Zahi Hawass′s web site

Hawass is without doubt an interesting character. On the one hand, he made a tremendous effort as Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities to internationally publicize appreciation and knowledge of Egyptian antiquities. Many of the changes he brought to Egyptian antiquities were long overdue, especially improving the training of indigenous archaeologists.

Hawass comes off quite well in the only ethnographic text to feature him as a key informant, L.L. Wynn’s excellent Pyramids and Nightclubs: A Travel Ethnography of Arab and Western Imaginations of Egypt, from King Tut and a Colony of Atlantis to Rumors of Sex … a Marauding Prince, and Blonde Belly Dancers (UTexas Press, 2007).

On the negative side, he spread interest in Egyptian antiquities largely by creating a cult of personality around himself, insisting on control over media reports about discoveries made by other archaeologists, creating his reality show on the History Channel and establishing these  commodities. He has resisted many new scientific efforts to add to Egyptological knowledge, such as DNA testing of mummies.

He also has achieved his ends by playing off neo-colonial and Orientalist themes themes, which are clearly present in the catalog language of this clothing design, with its references to exploration, adventure and exotic locales. And yet, this kind of thing is what brings many tourists to Egypt where their dollars are in great demand.

“Everything I do is for Egypt” Hawass has said over and over, dismissing his many critics. But like many other members of the regime, Hawass has also done well for himself by doing everything for Egypt, and he has many detractors. The web site Talking Pyramids follows antiquities news in Egypt and can’t say anything good about the man. They have a lengthy discussion of his transferring the operations of the gift shop from the previous Egyptian company that ran it to the American University in Cairo in spite of a court order, and are throwing suspicion on many of his claims about what artifacts were stolen during the uprisings and what has been returned.

Yet Hawass, in spite of his detractors, is one of several officials who escaped the purge of Mubarak appointees. In fact, he’s done well by the revolution. At the end of 2009, he was promoted personally by President Mubarak to the post of Vice Minister of Culture.When Mubarak tried to appease the protesters by shaking up his cabinet, he created the new post of Minister of Antiquities, and appointed Hawass to the job.

The wind whips away my son′s fedora (an Indy fedora, not a Zahi fedora, but what the heck they look the same)

During the uprisings, Hawass went on State TV, urging Egyptians not to believe the “lies and fabrications” of  Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Hawass told the NewYork Times that the protesters “should give us the opportunity to change things, and if nothing happens they can march again. But you can’t bring in a new president now, in this time. We need Mubarak to stay and make the transition.”

On March 3, 2011, Hawass resigned, but on March 30, 2011 he posted a tweet stating that he was once again the Minister of Antiquities, which was subsequently confirmed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s government. He apparently avoided a jail sentence for failing to obey a court order regarding the Egyptian Museum’s gift shop and dismisses criticisms over the use of antiquities to sell his clothing line on the grounds that proceeds go to support a childrens’ hospital.

So life seems to be looking better than ever for the archeologist who knows what the well-dressed man is wearing.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Angel Medrano permalink
    November 18, 2016 6:20 pm

    I’m an American with a great love for Egypt since 10yrs old. Egypt must understand that they have a champion and a treasure in Hawass. When Egypt will lose him one day, they will then realize they should have been more honorable in respecting that they will never have that again in their history. He should be over Antiquities and anything regarding it. Egypt has Nubians history ran by an Arab people. If I am correct, then you all better be prepared to lose your place in history and the books. The world is waking up because you have the wrong people in the wrong positions and you’re losing your heritage battle from within. But, it’s your country, right? I have many Egyptian friends and when I excitedly ask them a question about their history staring them in the face, they could could care less or they are unable to tell me anything. If Egyptians don’t care why should the rest of the world.

    • November 20, 2016 4:40 am

      Yes, Angel, but why would we expect average Egyptians to know their ancient history? Americans only have 240 years of history, but in 2015 PoliTech, a student group at Texas Tech University went around campus and asked “Who won the Civil War?”, and “Who did we gain our independence from?” Almost no students could answer both questions. A 2008 study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which surveyed more than 2,500 Americans, found that only half of adults in the country could name the three branches of government. The 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report found that only 18 percent of 8th graders were proficient or above in U.S. History and only 23 percent in Civics.

      • Angel Medrano permalink
        November 21, 2016 5:54 pm

        I agree with you to some degree. But American history is one-sided. School books from yesteryear and today are a reflection of that. Without getting into other things; In our “melting pot” country, there’s celebration to certain groups. All others are null and void, basically. Really, my comment is to celebrate the people that love their country and history, like Hawass. His eyes light up when he speaks of Egypt. But just like any presenter or champion of cause someone will always strike to disagree, because they can’t be a shining star.

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