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Zahi Hawass as Egypt’s Ultimate Political Survivor

May 21, 2011

There’s a nice piece by Jack Shenker in  the Guardian 19 May that supplements my post on Zahi Hawass.

100 days into the new Egypt, Hawass is portrayed as the ultimate survivor, a guy who can move from a Mubarak cabinet to a post-Mubarak cabinet, overcome a pro-Mubarak speech, ignore the accusations of corruption and arbitrariness that still cling to him, and avoid the consequences of a court judgment against him.

One of a handful of globally recognizable Egyptians, Hawass told Egyptians last February that the country needed Mubarak to avoid chaos. Now he has a different take on the uprising:

“This is one of the most significant episodes in Egypt’s history,” says Hawass, who resigned his cabinet position three weeks after Mubarak’s downfall, only to be reappointed a month later. “For the past 5,000 years we have been ruled by pharaohs, and on January 25 [the day the revolution erupted] we finally broke that chain.”

Members of the archaeological community, who have always resented Hawass’s high-handed ways, have been surprised by his successful adaptability:

“A few months ago I would never have thought he could survive this wave of scandals, his connections with the previous regime, all the claims of corruption that have dogged him for the past nine years,” said an Egyptian archaeologist who preferred to remain anonymous.

“And yet the interim government has reinstated him and the whole Egyptology community was shocked. Zahi thinks there is no one else who can do his job. Our former president said exactly the same thing. It’s the sort of claim we’ve come to expect from a mini-Mubarak like Hawass.”

Hawass himself is as self-confident as ever:

From Hawass’s perspective his position is unshakeable. “Things change, but I am the only one who understands this country’s history, who can truly see the past,” he sighs.

Shenker’s key point is the last paragraph, which strikes to the heart of why Hawass is important as a symbol of the old political elite trying to remake itself in contemporary Egypt:

“We have always needed a strongman; without one you have chaos. Look at what’s happening at the moment. Times are troubled but I’m optimistic that the unpleasantness will end and success is around the corner.” Whether he is referring to Egypt or himself is not clear.

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