Conflict & Justice

Egypt's own 'Indiana Jones' fired in cabinet reshuffle


Egypt's former antiquities chief Zahi Hawass arrives to the Valley of the Kings close to Luxor, 500 kms south of Cairo on November 4, 2007.



Egypt's famous antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, was dismissed on Sunday, in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle by the country's transitional government.

14 new ministers have been appointed to Egypt's interim cabinet.

The move by the Egypt's military-led government, which has ruled the country since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in February, appeared to be an effort to appease pro-reform activists who have been protesting in Cairo's Tahrir Square for the past 11 days.

As head of Egypt's ministry of antiquities, the larger-than-life Hawass was the gatekeeper for all of the country's archeological sites. Animated and flamboyant, the self-described "Daddy of All Mummies" never shied away from the media spotlight.  Hawass was, after all, the only government official in Egypt to have his own reality TV show and fan site.

But Hawass has long stirred controversy in Egypt.

In a country where more than a fifth of the nation live on less than $2 a day, Hawass peddled his own clothing line, offered replicas of his trademark "Indiana Jones" hats for $45 dollars, and was also proud author of a book that sells for a whopping $4,000.

(GlobalPost in Cairo: Will the real Indiana Jones please stand up?)

Last week, the New York Times reported that Hawass received an annual honorarium of up to $200,000 per year for his work as a National Geographic explorer.

“I have never done anything at all contrary to Egyptian law,” Hawass told the NYT. “Egyptian law permits government employees to accept honoraria and fees through outside contracts.”

Hawass also maintained that profits for his clothing line were donated to charities.  But because one of them, a cancer hospital, was run in part by Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, Egyptian protesters have long questioned Hawass' motives. 

Over the past week, protesters in Tahrir projected at least one video interview with Hawass on a large white film screen, in which the antiquities minister could be seen defending Mubarak during Egypt's January uprising.

Just days after Mubarak's February 11 departure, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Tahrir Square to demand the ouster of Hawass.

"He's a corrupt thief and should be brought to court," Hassan Sabr, an anti-Hawass protester, told GlobalPost at the time. "Zahi is a mini-Mubarak and we need to get rid of all the Mubaraks in this country."