July 19, 2011 / 5:22 AM / 6 years ago

Tumult in Egypt antiquities as Hawass swept aside

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt is struggling to find a replacement to run its antiquities ministry after the flamboyant Zahi Hawass, easily recognised by his Indiana Jones-style hat, was swept aside in a cabinet reshuffle to eject the old guard.

Hawass regularly appeared on international television, often with his feet covered in dust at the site of a dig, explaining the latest of Egypt's myriad Pharaonic ruins to be revealed.

His initial replacement, Abdel-Fattah al-Banna, came under fire for lacking archaeology credentials for the post. Appointed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Sunday, he quit a day later.

Hawass had also drawn criticism at home, although he became a celebrity abroad with his documentary appearances, describing finds from various pharaonic dynasties or campaigning for the return of treasures he said had been smuggled overseas.

Archaeologists working in Egypt said Hawass had a domineering style and often took credit for work uncovered by others. He also angered those who worked under him.

One witness said he was mobbed by angry employees on Sunday as he left his office for the last time, part of a reshuffle demanded by protesters camped out in central Cairo who are disappointed with the pace of change since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

"Thief, thief," crowds yelled at him, according to a video on the website of el-Youm el-Sabaa newspaper.

One official at the antiquities department said many people in the crowd were angry that Hawass had not fulfilled a promise to give workers on contract staff jobs by mid-July.

He angered others by initially downplaying the significance of artefacts looted from the Egyptian Museum in January. He later said eight valuable pieces from the era of Pharaohs Tutankhamun and Akhenaten were stolen.

"They were trying to hit him. They smashed out the windows of his taxi and hit the driver, who had to be taken to hospital," said an official working at the antiquities authority. "Fortunately Zahi's guards were protecting him."

But his replacement, Banna, failed to win support.

The secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which is under the ministry, said he met with representatives of the prime minister's office to argue against Banna.

"This man, he is not an archaeologist. It was a great mistake to appoint him," Mohamed Abdel-Maksoud told Reuters. "The prime minister has now decided to choose another person."

Employees in museums across Egypt went on strike on Monday against the appointment. The same day, state television reported he had handed in his resignation.

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