Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 -27 February 2008
Issue No. 885
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Zahi Hawass

Dig days: Stealing his thunder

By Zahi Hawass

There are some foreigners who steal the work of Egyptians. I have also seen many Egyptians who take other foreign work as their own. But this particular case is unique, and it is important to clear up this matter.

The story began a few months ago when Madame Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, the famous French Egyptologist, was stated as making every effort concerning the Nubian campaign, and some newspapers even published this lie. Everyone around the world knows that Tharwat Okasha started the campaign, and made many political and scientific plans for the salvage of the Nubian monuments. When Egypt began building the High Dam in Aswan in 1960, the rising water began to threaten the two famous temples at Abu Simbel, one built for Ramses the Great and the other for his favourite wife, Nefertari, as well as other temples located to the south of the High Dam, such as Wadi Al-Sebua and Amada. At that time, Egypt called for a global, cooperative effort to save these unique temples from being submerged under water.

Noblecourt announced incorrectly that she created the idea for this campaign. This announcement made many of us angry, and we rejected this lady's effort to steal the success from a great man of Egypt, Okasha, who was the minister of culture at that time. When I met him, it was on the occasion of honouring his efforts and ingenious plan to save the Nubian monuments. Noblecourt participated in this campaign, as did hundreds of other Egyptologists. I myself could not believe that she wanted to steal everything Okasha had done, particularly as he was the one who helped her and made her more well-known in Egypt. I do remember vividly when she and her husband came to Giza for a visit, and I was not waiting for them outside because I arrived later. She said that she was a good friend of Okasha's and that her future was made in Egypt because of his support. No one could believe that she would announce that the Nubian Salvage Campaign was her idea!

Anyone who understands history and goes back to review the UNESCO press or any newspaper will see that documents and witnesses say that it was because of Okasha's intelligence that the world gathered to save the great temples in Nubia. The campaign would never have happened without the leadership of Okasha, who in 1959 invited the then director of UNESCO to Egypt in order to discuss with him UNESCO's role in the campaign, as Egypt's monuments belonged to everyone. This was stated at the time by Egypt's minister of culture, and became like a song for all of us, who even repeat it today.

I will now retell what this all did but, in one case, I should say that he gave Noblecourt permission to take photographs for publication in her book on Tutankhamun, and opened the Egyptian Museum so that she could take these photographs. At that time, the Egyptians and many international committees honoured Okasha with medals and awards, while I heard that Noblecourt did not receive any honours because she did nothing for Nubia, except as an Egyptologist attending some meetings. Do we now think that Noblecourt created the idea for the Nubian Salvage Campaign because of her age so that people could imagine things that did not happen? I believe that this is the case. Neither Noblecourt nor the entire world can take away the great work that Okasha did -- no one can steal his success. Okasha's name will be written in gold in history because of his efforts on Nubia's behalf.

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