Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 June 2006
Issue No. 797
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Lubna Abdel-Aziz

Son of Pharoah

He is everywhere -- London, Paris, New York, Rome, Luxor, Sharm, Hurghada, Alexandria. You can see him on NBC, ABC, BBC, CNN, TV5, DEUTSCHE WEILE, also, the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic, The History and the Learning Channels. You can read about him on the pages of The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and Le Figaro. His 33 books are in every bookstore around the globe, and if you cruise the Internet, you are sure to Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia him. You are likely to run into him at meetings, lectures, seminars, receptions, re-unions, graduations and memorials. He is charming, accessible and knowledgeable, and there is a sun that shines with constant splendour within him. Judging by his attire, he is an ultra-modern man, judging by his grey mane, he is a very ancient soul. His smile is permanent and infectious, his voice animated and passionate, his conversation, intense and engaging. Despite his swinging gait, his burden is heavy, for on his shoulders he carries a colossal legacy, passed on by those who came before him. Clearly, he was chosen to reclaim the glory of his forefathers.

Zahi Hawass, guardian of the ancients

Among the numerous awards bestowed upon him in the last two decades, the most recent was by TIME Inc in its 8 May issue of the world's 100 Most Influential People. This is the culmination of a tireless effort to keep the spotlight on his beloved Egypt, blazing and burning like the desert's midday sun. Zahi Hawass -- for that is his name -- has been selected by the popular US publication as one of 100 people who shape our world. Hawass's importance unquestionably lies in his activism, but also in his persona. He is confident, authoritative, flamboyant, and charming. It is not only what Zahi does, it is what Zahi is.

The Special issue of Time Magazine of 100 people whose power, talent or moral example "is transforming our lives," may be hard pressed to explain how the Pope shares the spotlight with the Dixie Chicks, the famous with the infamous, the constructive with the destructive? It is incredibly presumptuous to claim that Howard Stern or Sean (Diddy) Combs will shape our history. The selection of Hawass however, was right on target. His influence does not stop at Egypt's borders. Like Egypt's Nobel Prize winners, he continues to alert the world to her great attributes, of yesterday and today, seen through the eyes of her very modern sons.

It is hard not to admire his shining qualities, his "infinite variety" and his "multitudinous mind". Apart from travelling, lecturing, writing and digging, Hawass heads the Supreme Council of Antiquities with 30,000 officials, 4,000 archaeologists, as well as supervising the digs of many visiting international expeditions.

A renowned excavator himself, he has numerous discoveries to his credit, among them another pyramid at Giza. Building a pyramid was a source of pride for Egyptians, employing skilled craftsmen rather than slaves. Every family desired to make a contribution. "It was the Pyramid that built Egypt, rather than the other way around."

His burning mission of late has been the retrieval of some of Egypt's precious monuments, scattered around the world. With a burning flame within, he flies from city to city, capital to capital, shaking his finger, raising his voice, lecturing to sympathizers about returning our monuments, in adherence to the 1972 international law, stipulating that property removed after that date, must be returned to its home country. Some have been kindly returned, but Hawass wants more. He wants the bust of Nefertiti from Berlin, the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum, and the Zodiac from the Louvre. He cannot have them back. Thereby, the eternal note of sadness in his quest. Could they at least come for a visit so that the children of modern Egypt who do not travel to faraway places can get to see them? Hawass's impassioned plea is that these works belong to Egypt, but who will listen? Will they listen, they who with their rude and cruel hands, dislodged the images of the ancients from their accustomed nooks, from among the lotus leaves and from under the shade of their swaying palms? Whether Hawass succeeds or not, is not the point; the point is, he will die trying.

Hawass was born on an Egyptian farm in Damietta, Egypt (l8 May, 1947). His father died when he was only 13, but his words of council were seared on the youngster's heart. "Fear no one, believe in yourself, always speak the truth." Hawass wished to become a lawyer but one look at the law books and he was cured. He joined the School of Archaeology, studied the Graeco-Roman period, and on graduation was appointed an inspector at the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation. He refused to go anywhere to inspect, preferring to become a diplomat, and sat for that school's pre-requisite exam. But when threatened with dismissal by his boss, he showed up at his post at Tuna Al-Gebel, in the middle of nowhere, and started to explore the site. "I began to become interested in a field that seemed to have chosen me." The following year, Zahi made his first discovery in the Delta area: "taking my brush I began to clean the stone carefully; gradually a beautiful face began to appear. It was Isis/Aphrodite, goddess of love." It was love at first sight. He found his passion, his purpose in life, his sacred mission -- archaeology -- or did it find him?

Now, the whole world knows about Hawass and his love and dedication to the life, the works and the remains of his forefathers. He brings it all lovingly en relief, for the world to witness, and through his eyes the world looks once again on the glory of his ancient land with eyes full of appreciation, admiration and above all -- respect.

Zahi Hawass, one of TIME 's 100 most influential people in the world -- and then some!

Say not the struggle naught availeth,

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)

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