Sunday, September 25, 2011

Egypt's Newest Antiquities Chief Submits Resignation, Saying He Will Not "Be Regarded As A Stooge"

After little more than a month in office, Mohamed Abdel Fatah submitted his resignation on Tuesday as Egypt’s antiquities chief – the formal title is Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities -- according to various reports from the Middle East.   

Abdel Fatah, apparently the latest casualty in the scandal-ridden country which is in the midst of a revolution, cited as one reason the intensification of protests in Egypt – which has put “all archaeological work on hold.”


He made the statement to the Egyptian newspaper Ahram, which published it approximately Friday, New York time.  He said he was also outraged by his lack of authority to make any decisions without the approval of current Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

The recent protests in Egypt – which saw the breaching of the concrete wall around the Israeli Embassy -- have included protests in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (the SCA).

Mohamed Abdel Fatah
Egyptian demonstrators demanding salary raises and the appointment of new graduate archaeologists have blocked entrance to the SCA headquarters and caused the closure of several buildings. 

People behind the protests are “profiteering from accelerating such protests to create chaos that stops archaeological work from proceeding properly,” Abdel Fatah claimed to Ahram.

At one point the Council reportedly called the military police to remove the demonstrators.

“Conditions have become chaotic, and I am afraid to say that the SCA is now completely paralyzed,” the Agence France Presse quoted Abdel Fatah as saying.


“The load on me was unbearable,” he told the official Middle East News Agency.  “I refuse to be regarded as a stooge. . . . I felt powerless and overwhelmed especially that I had been deprived of much of my authority.”  As an example, he said he could not authorize the payment of $50 as compensation to an archaeologist whose leg had been amputated.

The SCA oversees the country’s ancient monuments and all archaeological work and plays a key role in Egypt’s tourist industry, which has declined dramatically since last February’s toppling of  Hosni Mubarak and the continuing, often violent turmoil in Egypt.

Abdel Fatah was appointed in August to replace the famed wildman-hustler Zawi Hawass, who resigned soon after the Mubarak government fell amid allegations that he was too close to the Mubaraks.  Hawass was later reappointed, and then ousted in July.  

Zawi Hawass
Hawass was known for stifling discourse within Egypt while quite successfully  promoting himself – with appearances on the Discovery cable-TV channel, for example, and taking credit for sensational and sometimes dubious discoveries, like unearthing the very chariot from which King Tut had taken a fatal tumble.

He was also remarkably persuasive in convincing institutions in other countries, including the Metropolitan Museum, to return antiquities to Egypt, causing some to question whether the Met had lost its marbles in addition to its antiquities. 

Hawass is currently facing an official Egyptian investigation on corruption charges, as are so many others in the former dictatorship. 

Will Abdel Fatah reappear as antiquities chief the way Hawass did?  On Friday Ahram reported that the cabinet had refused Abdel Fatah’s resignation and had scheduled a meeting with him today.

Photo of protest from Egyptian Gazette.  Other photos pulled from the internet.
Text copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert