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Egypt's Antiquities Minister dodges jail time

Egypt’s antiquity minister Zahi Hawass will not serve any jail time and will remain in his position, according to the leading Egyptologist’s blog. 


"The National Council of Egypt’s Administrative Court issued a decree today (April 18, 2011) accepting a proposal to stop the recent court ruling against me in my former role as Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, in a case involving the bookstore at the Egyptian Museum,” Hawass wrote. 

Centering on the bookstore that was looted during the Egyptian revolution in January, the verdict on Sunday seemed to put to an end Hawass’ career. 

The Egyptian court sentenced Hawass to a year in jail and ordered him removed from his job. 

The sentence arose out a lawsuit accusing Hawass of refusing to fulfill a court ruling issued last year over a contract to run the lucrative bookstore. (Full details about the convoluted dispute, which include both contenders’ claims, can be found in Hawass’s blog and in the Talking Pyramids blog, which features reports based on the accounts of Farid Atiya, the businessman who sued Hawass ). 

“I am very glad that this situation is being cleared up, and that I will be able to continue to focus on my first priority, which is protecting Egypt’s antiquities,” Hawass wrote. 

Named minister of antiquities under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, Hawass resigned in March in protest at the lack of proper action on looting and vandalism taking place at various sites in Egypt. 

The well known Egyptologist had to face a widespread criticism for alternating between reassuring announcements of the safety of Egyptian antiquities and dramatic reports since the break-in at the Egyptian museum on Jan. 28, 2011. 

In a interview last week, Hawass, who had accepted a reappointment to his post within a month from his resignation, admitted that about 1,000 relics had been stolen from museums and archeological sites across Egypt since protests against the government began in January. 

Two days later, he announced that four pharaonic artifacts, which included a gilded wooden statues of King Tutankhamun and the boy King’s gilded bronze and wooden trumpet, had been returned to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. 

The statement caused quite a stir as it did not mention how the priceless artifacts were recovered. 

Hawass himself provided an explanation a few days later in his blog, saying that a bag with the looted objects was found by “a person” in a metro station. 

According to British archaeologists Paul Barford, the story is not totally convincing, as no name is provided for the person who found the bag. 

“One might have thought the gratitude of the Egyptian people for this guy's honesty and civic spirit would have at least merited Dr. Hawass naming him and saying a very public thank-you,” Barford wrote in his blog. 

“How was it ascertained that this now-unnamed person was not one of the thieves? Was he in fact questioned by the police about the precise circumstances of finding the objects? I'd also like to see the bag,” Barford said. 

Conflicting information and lack of details have worried Egyptologists and archaeologists, who have started several international petition campaigns to call for the restoration of adequate security to the sites, storehouses, monuments and antiquities of Egypt. 

“There are a lot of people who were extremely distressed and extremely concerned about what happened in the Egyptian Museum on 28th January. ... The Egyptian authorities do in fact owe these people a bit more information than we are getting,” said Barford. 

Author: Rossella Lorenzi | Source: Discovery News [April 18, 2011]


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