Al-Ahram Weekly Online   20 - 26 March 2008
Issue No. 889
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Zahi Hawass

Omar Sharif and the Pyramid Builders

By Zahi Hawass

More than 10 years ago, when I was teaching Egyptology courses at UCLA, Lisa Truitt of National Geographic came to see me about an IMax film entitled Mysteries of Egypt, which they were planning to produce. I told Lisa that I wanted Omar Sharif to be the narrator. I wanted Sharif and I to work together on this film. When Lisa met Sharif, he immediately agreed to be the narrator and offered to do it for nothing. But, Lisa said no, and insisted on paying him. She told me that if they did not pay the actor it could end up costing the production company more. If one morning Sharif decided not to get up and come to the set, she explained, this would cost the production company because they would still have to pay for the cameras and crew. They therefore had a strict policy to always pay the actor a salary. We met many times during the film's production to discuss the details.

When Sharif used to come to Egypt, the press chased and hounded him, trying to get an interview. Sometimes they made him angry by asking stupid questions, or they would exaggerate and insinuate things in their questions. One day Amal Othman, who at that time was a reporter for Akhbar Al-Yom, wanted to meet him for an interview. She is a very intelligent and energetic person, and this is why she became the editor of Al-Negoum (Stars) magazine at such a young age. She asked me to contact Sharif because of our friendship and arrange the interview. I called Sharif and he agreed. Sharif thought that the reporter was a smart lady and asked good questions; it was a great interview. Later Othman wanted to do an interview with Sharif and myself. She thought that it should be an interview between a star actor and a star archeologist, which ended up being the title of the article. Othman convinced Sharif to do the interview at the Giza Pyramids and to visit the excavation of the tombs of the pyramid builders. This discovery is extremely important because it proves that Egyptians built the pyramids, not slaves, aliens or people from a lost civilisation.

Normally Sharif likes to wake up late and do rituals, but he broke his routine and arrived at the Pyramids at noon. He visited the excavation, and while he was there a beautiful, 11cm unnamed statuette was discovered. Othman's photographer took pictures of Sharif and I holding the statue, and Othman published a fabulous article. A photograph of Sharif and myself with the statuette was on the magazine cover.

A few months later, an important group came to visit the Pyramids and wanted to see my excavations and the discovered statues. The visit was on 7 January, which is the Coptic Christmas holiday, and the keeper of the storeroom, Amal Samuel, was at home for the feast. The tourist police went to her home during the VIP visit of the Pyramids and Boat Museum. The security brought Samuel to the storeroom, and she took about 16 statues that I had discovered during my excavations and exhibited them on a table next to the Sphinx for the VIP guests to see. I explained each statue and told the story of each discovery. It was a very impressive visit. The minister of culture was with us, but the head of antiquities did not come and he was extremely jealous.

After the visit, the police found out that the small statuette that was discovered the day of Sharif's visit was missing, presumed stolen. How did this happen? How was it that we did not know it was missing? The story of the stolen statue was then published in the newspaper. The head of antiquities was still very jealous and wanted to remove me from my job at the Pyramids. He wrote a decree to move me to another site because he said he wanted to keep as inventory the storeroom. I had nothing to do with the storeroom -- Samuel was the keeper of the storeroom and she held the keys! The newspapers published articles accusing Sharif and I of steeling the statue. I learnt that there was a conspiracy against me. Therefore, I resigned my position at the Pyramids and went to teach at UCLA.

Later the police discovered who had stolen the statuette. There were many people involved in the theft, and it was announced to the public. Because he was corrupt, the head of antiquities was removed from his job by the Egyptian parliament, and I was asked to take back my position at the Pyramids.

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