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EGYPT: Antiquities minister’s fashion-line photo shoot roils his critics

April 19, 2011 |  9:39 am


A blog by an American photographer recently circulated in Egyptian media has prompted activists to accuse Zahi Hawass, the nation's flamboyant archaeologist and minister of antiquities, of abusing his position by using historic relics as props to promote a clothing line under his name.

Twitter and Facebook pages are collecting signatures from Egyptians who want to file a report with the attorney general on allegations that Hawass was “endangering Egypt’s artifacts.”

Photographer James Weber wrote a blog post in November stating that he had the opportunity to do a photo shoot at the Discovery Times Square Exposition in New York to promote Hawass’ new men’s line. Weber went on to say how he and his assistants were granted access to the exhibition after closing to take pictures of a model wearing Hawass' clothing line near King Tut’s tomb and other artifacts.

The blog was recently translated and published in a number of Egyptian newspapers and websites. Many Egyptians were enraged that the famous Egyptologist -- whose larger-than-life persona has popularized ancient history in U.S. and Western television specials -- used valuable antiquities to support his “his personal interest.”

Hawass tried to clear himself by saying that the photographer and his crew did not touch the artifacts or use flash photography: “Stories about this photo shoot are circulating, claiming that it happened in the Egyptian Museum, and that they had a model sit on actual antiquities. I can firmly say that of course none of this is true,” Hawass said in a statement published Monday on his website.

The star of History Channel’s “Chasing Mummies” also said that he only accepted the proposal of starting a clothing line under his name “on the condition that profits will be donated to a children’s cancer hospital in Cairo.”

Egyptian regulations prohibit touching relics, photographing or using them for commercial motives. Despite his massive popularity as an adventurous relic hunter in the West and his efforts fighting antiquities theft, Hawass has remained a controversial and sometimes unpredictable figure for the few Egyptian intellectuals who know him.

His work under and support for former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime during the first days of the Jan. 25 uprising that toppled Mubarak severely damaged his credibility among rank-and-file Egyptians.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Zahi Hawass in front of the Great Sphinx. Credit: Amr Nabil / Associated Press