Jul 17, 6:08 PM EDTEgypt
's iconic antiquities
By SARAH EL DEEB
CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt
minister, whose trademark Indiana Jones hat made him one the country's best known figures around the world, was fired Sunday after months of pressure from critics who attacked his
credibility and accused him of having been too close to the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Zahi Hawass, long chided as publicity loving and short on scientific knowledge, lost his
job along with about a dozen other ministers in a Cabinet reshuffle meant to ease pressure from protesters seeking to purge remnants of Mubarak's regime.
"He was the Mubarak of antiquities
," said Nora Shalaby, an activist and archaeologist. "He acted as if he owned Egypt
, and not that they belonged to the people of Egypt
Despite the criticism, he was credited with helping boost interest in archaeology in Egypt
and tourism, a pillar of the country's economy.
But after Mubarak's ouster on Feb. 11 in a popular uprising, pressure began to build for him to step down.
Hawass was among a list of Cabinet ministers protesters wanted to see gone because they were associated with the former regime.
And archaeology students and professors blasted him for what they saw as his
lack of serious research.
Shalaby said Hawass didn't tolerate criticism. She said most his
finds were about self-promotion, with many "rediscoveries" in search of the limelight.
Hawass prided himself in being the "keeper and guardian" of Egypt
's heritage. He told an Egyptian
lifestyle magazine, Enigma, in 2009 that George Lucas, the maker of the "Indian Jones" films, had
come to visit him in Egypt
"to meet the real Indiana Jones."
Hawass, 64, started out as an inspector of antiquities
in 1969 and rose to become one of the most recognizable names in Egyptology. He became the general director of antiquities
at the Giza plateau in the late 1980s, before being named Egypt
's top archaeologist in 2002.
In one of Mubarak's final official acts as president, Hawass' position was elevated to that of a Cabinet minister. After Mubarak's ouster, Hawass submitted his
resignation but he was reinstated before finally being removed Sunday.His
name has been associated with most new archaeological digs in Egypt
, with grand discoveries such as the excavation of the Valley of the Golden Mummies in Bahariya Oasis in 1999 and the discovery of the mummy of Egypt
's Queen Hatshepsut almost a decade later.
He was also a staple on the Discovery Channel, which accompanied him on the find of Hatshepsut's mummy. He started his
own reality show on the History
Channel called "Chasing the Mummies." The channel introduces him as "the man
behind the mummies."
Hawass has long campaigned to bring home
ancient artifacts spirited out of the country during colonial times. He said since he became top archaeologist, he managed to recover 5,000 artifacts.
In January, just before anti-government protests erupted, he formally requested the return of the 3,300-year-old bust
of Queen Nefertiti that has been in a Berlin museum for decades.
Hawass also had
a fashion line, including his
hat, for which he organized a photo-shoot in the Egyptian
Museum, something that drew the ire of many archeologists.
"He was a personality created by the media," said Abdel-Halim Abdel-Nour, the president of the Association of Egyptian
He said many campaigned for Hawass's removal, including on Facebook and in Tahrir Square, the center of Egypt
Just before news of his
departure, Hawass was heckled near his
office Sunday as he left on foot. Protesters tried to block his
way, until he jumped into a taxi to get away from the melee, the taxi driver, Mohammed Abdu, said.
Hawass was replaced by Abdel-Fattah el-Banna, an associate professor in restoration. He was frequently present in Tahrir Square during the protests.
© 2011 The Associated Press