-In a post yesterday (so before the latest revelations from Cairo Museum) Lee Rosenbaum (One-Armed Tut: Hawass Issues Detailed Report on Damage at Egyptian Museum, Feb 11th 2011) discusses the reports emerging from Egypt's new Ministry of Antiquities in the last days of the Mubarak regime and Zahi Hawass' soothing status reports:
Perhaps his upbeat reports about other sites, including Saqqara, were [...] based upon incomplete, fragmentary reports. The fact that Hawass may have lacked full, reliable information during the past two chaotic weeks is completely understandable. But his misleading previous assertions about the Cairo museum break-in, where, in some instances, his own knowledge must have differed from his public pronouncements, is less excusable. Similarly problematic were his strong "factual" pronouncements regarding the "safety" of antiquities sites, about which he lacked complete and reliable information. If Hawass didn't know the full extent of the vandalism and looting, he should have acknowledged that, rather than giving blanket assurances that all was well. Those assurances, of utmost importance to Egyptologists, conflicted with some accounts from people in the field (such as archaeologists who work at Saqqara). As with the rest of Egypt's governance, we need more candor and transparency from its Ministry of Antiquities. Minimizing the problems undermines the credibility of the minister.To be fair to the man, he was placed with no prior notice at the head of a new ministry which he then had to organize (in the logistic sense), was made a full cabinet member at a time when the government was falling, had to deal with foreign press and foreign archaeologists and the general problems of getting about and living a normal life in Cairo. Hawass is not Director of the Museum (that is Dr. Tarek El Awady) and while he obviously visited a number of times and spent some time there trying to work out what had happened (and perhaps indicate what should be done in future), it seems possible that some of the details may have been deliberately hidden from him by the museum staff. (Let's face it, we've seen his rather strong personality expressing itself on TV, would you tell him to his face that you'd failed to carry out your job correctly?). A few days ago he wrote:
Yesterday was the first time, since this crisis began, that I was able to take the time to closely examine each item that was damaged during the museum’s break in on Friday, 28 January, 2011. I also took time to speak to the commanders of the police and army stationed at the museum, and I asked them to update me on their investigations. I have heard so many differing stories about how the break in occurred, so I felt it was necessary to confirm the details with the police and army.But then of course the police and army do not know the full story either. What is needed is a full investigation, perhaps by an outside body, followed by a proper report, detailing exactly what went wrong and making formal recommendations on how to avoid this sort of situation in the future, both in Egypt and in the case of other museums.
Vignette: Lee Rosenbaum.