23 - 29 March 2000
Issue No. 474
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Panels on the sideHow do you keep hundreds of Egyptologists from around the globe happy for six days? Ask Zahi Hawass
"When I learned that I was to be in charge of the arrangements for the eighth congress of Egyptology, I gave a lot of thought to how we can take advantage of such a large number of brilliant international scholars -- how we can have some lively and controversial discussions on major issues and how we can best provide guidelines for the future," said Zahi Hawass, director-general of the Giza Plateau and secretary-general of this year's International Congress of Egyptology (ICE).
One of the main criticisms of previous congresses has been the lack of time for discussion after presentations. "Lectures were diverse and fascinating, but after they were over the five or ten minutes allowed for questions proved, in many cases, not long enough; in others, the lecturer overran his time and there was no discussion at all."
Rather than fiddle with discussion times, Hawass proposed a different strategy to resolve the problem. "It has always been my dream to see into the future with regard to the monuments of Egypt; to see where Egyptology is going -- and I saw a way to do this." Hawass has arranged a series of debates within the congress schedule on eight major themes ranging from literature and religion to site management.
"I felt that this would be useful, and important," he continued, "not only for the delegates present but also for a wider audience. After all, how many people, outside of scholars in the field, know what is actually going on behind stage?"
Easier said than done. With so many scholars from different parts of the world, assigning panels of experts -- not to mention the language they'll be speaking -- has been a trying task.
"With some 1,200 professionals, this was really a hard decision," said Hawass. But previous commitments, obligations or simply time and distance have made it impossible for all the scholars invited to participate -- a mixed blessing for Hawass, as it served to reduce the list he was choosing from.
And the language? "It was a hard decision, but English won out," said Hawass, reasoning that the debates need to be held in a language that will attract and reach the greatest number of people.
"We anticipate some lively and controversial debates," Hawass added. "Egyptologists are wont to contradict each other ... all in the course of scholarship."
Hawass is delighted that the event is being held at the Mena House Oberoi Hotel. "Imagine discussing ideas on Egyptology in the shadow of the pyramids," he said.
One of the most consequential of the seminars will undoubtedly be "Egyptian Archaeology in the 21st Century," presented by David O'Connor, with Manfred Bietak as respondent. Some of the finest minds in the field of Egyptology, including F Hassan, K Mysliwiec, M Lehner, M Verner and R Stadelmann, will make up the panel.
"Such a seminar will reveal what is most important for the future," said Hawass, citing issues like collaboration between the Egyptian government and foreign excavators and how to train and develop the talents of younger professionals.
"Of course excavation, documentation and conservation of the sites will also be discussed," Hawass continued. "When we look into the 21st century, we must remember what it was like a mere century ago, at the beginning of the 20th century. There was no control of our national heritage then. It was still a 'free for all' and the great museum collections of the world were built up before a law for the protection of our antiquities was on the table. Sites were pillaged, grave robbers were rampant and smugglers and entrepreneurs were active."
UNESCO experts have predicted that many archaeological sites around the world will completely deteriorate in the coming two centuries. "I think that the situation in Egypt is even more grave," Hawass claims. "I see that major parts of many of our ancient sites will be lost in the coming 100 years unless we do something about it. And by this, I mean long-term plans: site management, training programmes and, of course, how to protect our monuments from the influx of tourists."
UNESCO experts estimate that the year 2000 will see the number of tourists reach 661 million worldwide. "They do a great deal of damage. Also, Egyptian visitors during national holidays -- they are just as bad. We must do something about it. The seminars will help us find the way."