News / Africa

Egypt’s 'Indiana Jones' Calls It Quits

Zahi Hawass, head of the Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, pictured above, resigned over what he considered a lack of security at the country's historic sites (file photo)
Zahi Hawass, head of the Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, pictured above, resigned over what he considered a lack of security at the country's historic sites (file photo)
David Byrd

The celebrated head of the Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has resigned. The man responsible for overseeing Egypt’s historical sites said he stepped down because many of the ancient sites are not being properly protected. Now, the new government is scrambling to replace the man who has become the worldwide face of Egyptian archaeology.

Zahi Hawass, known in some circles as “Egypt’s Indiana Jones,” was the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities for nearly a decade. He was in many ways the face of Egyptian archaeology.

In late January, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had elevated the SCA to a Cabinet level position with Hawass as its head.   

But this week, Hawass said he was resigning. On his website, he said he was leaving because the Egyptian army could not protect all the ancient sites and no tourist police were available. That led to looting and damage of several heritage sites.  

Hawass said the tomb of Hetep-ka at Saqqara, the tomb of Petah-Shepses at Abu Sir and the tomb of Em-pi at Giza had been damaged. Some storage magazines had also been attacked and several items looted. Hawass said he resigned because he could not stop the looting.

Salima Ikram
Salima Ikram

Salima Ikram is a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo (AUC). She told VOA that some of the looting can be attributed to opportunists just looking for gold or other treasures. However, she added there is another group - armed thieves who break into sites and do irreparable damage.

Fayza Haikal, the former head of the Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Egyptology department at AUC, says Hawass did a lot to raise the profile of Egypt and increase tourism to the country. She is hopeful that Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s new government will quickly move to protect ancient sites.

“If ever they had a doubt that something is happening, they call the police, they report to the police. And there are no police for the moment,” she said.

“I hope it will not be for very long because now the new administration, the new Cabinet is in place, so I hope that it will soon get active again and the monuments will be protected again,” Haikal added.

Haikal said that one way to prevent looting is for the world to refuse to buy plundered antiquities. She says anything that appears on the market for the next few years has to be suspect.

“To buy things is to encourage looting,” she said. “So I don’t know why the looters are doing that because I don’t think that they can really sell what they are taking now. But the one thing that is very, very important is that if there is no demand, there will be much less looting.”

Zahi Hawass was not without detractors. He was criticized for a domineering style and for boosting his own media profile. There were also protests about jobs and pay for Egyptologists in the country.

But he increased the salaries of SCA employees, offered medical benefits and was working on a union for archaeologists. He was also a staunch advocate for recovering plundered artifacts. During his tenure, 5,000 high-value antiquities were returned to Egypt.

Salima Ikram says Hawass’s academic credentials remain untarnished, and even though he is no longer the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, he will remain a powerful figure in archeology.

“So the idea that just because he is not in charge of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, he is not going to be an extremely active and perhaps even a more active member of the academic community is not a worry for us,” Ikram added.

Prime Minister Sharaf has appointed Emad Abou-Ghazi as the head of the Ministry of Culture. However, after several archaeologists demonstrated in Cairo, the Antiquities Department remains separate. Several names have been put forth to replace Hawass. Egyptologists, historians and archaeologists are hoping whoever succeeds “the Egyptian Indiana Jones” makes preserving and protecting ancient sites the top priority.


Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs