The Politics of Egyptology

Philip Coppens investigates the fall of Zahi Hawass from power in the current issue of Nexus Magazine:


The article can be downloaded for $1.50

Coppens concludes that Hawass has been the puppet of two American special interest groups for decades. Coppens writes, "In the 1990's, Hugh Lynn Cayce reportedly said, according to Edgar Cayce biographer A. Robert Smith: 'I got him [Zahi Hawwass] a scholarship at the university of Pennsylvania in Egyptology, to get his PhD. I got the scholarship through an ARE person who happened to be on the Fulbright scholarship board.' " Coppens continues, "Yet while most have been looking at the ARE, it is another organisation, the ARCE (American Research Center in Egypt), that has been missed and which seems to be the veritable puppet master."

The most influential person over the Giza Plateau other than Zahi Hawass has been Mark Lehner, who also has had long and close ties to both ARE and ARCE.

The below quotes more than hint at the "big brother" presence of Mark Lehner and the ARCE in Egypt:

"When an excavation takes place in Egypt, an Egyptian inspector is assigned to the project by law ... Through ARCE, Egyptian inspectors are rotated in to work side-by-side with contract archeologists from around the world and the field schools local students."

"Under Lehner's direction, the American Research Center in Egypt's (ARCE) field school receives financial support from a USAID Egyptian Antiquities Conservation grant, among other international cultural philanthropic and academic organizations. While he considers the field school as "cultural capacity building from the bottom-up"that being the 'robustness behind all successful business organizations'Lehner acknowledged that the support from the top-down "allows us to be successful, to make change.

"ARCE works with the Egyptian system, explained Lehner, who has a longstanding working relationship with Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities."

Coppens notes that prior to becoming Secretary General, Hawass was Chief Inspector of the Giza Pyramid Plateau. In 1993 Hawass was suspended from this office under suspicion of antiquities theft. His boss was however sacked instead, after which Hawass was reinstated. During his tenure as Secretary General one of his leading ministers was convicted of taking bribes from "monument renovation contractors". This minister was convicted despite protests from Hawass. All the while Hawass has claimed to take a hard line against both antiquities theft and corruption, but Coppens argues this only part of Hawass' larger political smoke screen. While denouncing foreign exploitation he has remained the pawn of foreign organization agendas.

According to Coppens, the self-contradictory nature of Hawass' reign is no more apparent than in "official" Sphinx and Pyramid research, which has ground to a halt except for what is personally dictated by Hawass and consistent with the plans of the ARE/ARCE consortium. Those plans have included walling off the Sphinx and Pyramid complex and aggressive draining it of ground water. The stated purpose is to protect the monuments, but the ulterior motive is exploration. While he denies all claims about underground mysteries, the actions of Hawass indicate he is very much interested in pursuing them and the rewards of any discoveries. But are his patrons still willing to share that glory with him?

Hawass has been unscathed by scandal since aligning himself with the ARE and ARCE. However, it seems that even these organizations have finally had enough of him. The National Geographic society also appears to be distancing itself from him, or at least hedging. Hawass was presented in rather poor light in their last special, which was a documentary about Sphinx theories. Geological engineer Colin Reader was put forward as the new champion. Hawass was made out to be a buffoon. At the time I thought that National Geo was just trying to appear more impartial by having Hawass speak followed by another "talking head" who immediately refuted him. But now it is clear that National Geo was simply playing politics as well!