Egypt antiquities boss under fire over thefts,jobs

Thu Feb 17, 2011 6:12am GMT

By Andrew Hammond

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass defended himself on Wednesday from a wave of criticism over looting at the Egyptian Museum during the revolution last month and accusations of corruption in his ministry.

Hawass initially played down reports of theft from the museum, home to priceless treasures from Pharaonic Egypt, after security forces clashed on January 28 with millions of Egyptians who eventually succeeded in ousting President Hosni Mubarak.

Promoted to the level of minister of state during Mubarak's reshuffle after the uprising had gathered pace, Hawass told Reuters on February 9 that no artefacts had been stolen.

But this week Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), admitted eight valuable pieces from the era of Pharaohs Tutankhamun and Akhenaten were stolen, raising questions about why he had said otherwise. Experts have suggested the thieves knew exactly what they were looking for.

"When I came to the museum I found everyone outside wanting to protect it. I said to myself the Egyptian Museum is fine, the masterpieces are still there. It was later that we realised eight pieces were stolen," Zawass told reporters on the building's steps in central Cairo.

"I found out during this revolution that pro- and anti- government people agreed on one thing -- to protect the museum. The museum could have faced a disaster," he said, adding the museum and other tourist sites could reopen on Saturday. "We hope the tourists will come back to Egypt."


Tourist receipts are one of Egypt's key revenue earners and Hawass, who often appears to style himself as an Indiana Jones figure in his hat and safari fatigues, has become central to the sales pitch for many around the world.   Continued...

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