Other American groups with a Cairo presence prefer not to engage the issue. “Zahi is the only person who can talk about antiquities,” says an employee at the American Research Center in Egypt, before ending the call.
But the revolution, which has emboldened ordinary citizens to talk back to military figures and public officials, has also changed the way people relate to ministerial power. After the fall of Mubarak, Hawass was the target of vociferous and angry protests by young archaeologists. And even with Hawass back in power, some ministry workers are now confronting him publicly. Allegations that Hawass has covered up thefts at archaeological sites and misused funds have been sent to Egypt’s newly empowered public prosecutor by two prominent archaeological officials.
Zaghlul Ibrahim Mohamed, an archaeological inspector who lives in an exurban neighborhood near Egypt’s Great Pyramid, has put his name to accusations that have circulated mainly as rumor until now. Mohamed alleges that Hawass often lays claim to discoveries made by other archaeologists and that he has used his influence to protect associates who are involved in the illegal antiquities trade.
Hawass will have none of it.
“They are using the revolution against me,” he says. He says that he is reforming his ministry, that he will not be the sort of minister “with guards and a big car” and that he will pursue the repatriation of Egyptian antiquities from foreign museums with the same fervor he has always had. (Last month, Egypt came a step closer to reclaiming the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, held by the St. Louis Art Museum, when the U.S. attorney’s office in St. Louis moved to seize it.)
Although Hawass has charmed audiences and cultural leaders throughout the world, he is brusque and dismissive when it comes to his accusers. Asked about corruption allegations, Hawass pulls from his office drawer five folders that he says contain evidence discrediting his critics.
“I have a bad file against each one,” he says. “Five loud voices can ruin anyone. But they never ruined me. I am strong and honest.”
Hawass’s position appears secure only until Egypt holds parliamentary elections in September, when a new government will decide whether Hawass is, as he insists, the only one in Egypt capable of leading his ministry. His growing ranks of increasingly vocal critics dispute that, arguing that Dr. Zahi is not the only one who knows where the skeletons of Egypt are buried.