Ancient Egypt Online (AEO): How is the restoration of damaged objects (during the Egyptian Museum’s break –in in January) progressing?

Zahi Hawass (ZH): All of the artifacts that were broken in the Egyptian Museum, and the ones looted from there and returned, have been restored and will be put back on display soon. There are only 31 missing objects now.

AEO: How hopeful would you say their recovery is?

ZH: The potential for recovery is fantastic because the looters appear not to have been professional artifact thieves, but opportunists looking for gold and a mythical substance called ‘red mercury,’ which does not really exist, but is thought to be found in mummies. 1200 pieces have been stolen from various locations in total, but no masterpieces are missing from anywhere. I am very optimistic that all of the objects will be returned, especially as it will be very difficult for anybody to sell them. I recently had a meeting with Interpol and we will be publishing lists of the missing artifacts, which will discourage people from trying to buy them. My fear, however, is that they will be thrown away into a canal or something instead.

AEO: As the new government develops, and elections approach, what are your hopes for Egypt and the Egyptian people?

ZH: I hope that Egypt will achieve democracy and freedom. I also hope that everyone understands that it is very important to try to get back to normal again now and let the current cabinet do its work in preparing for the presidential and parliamentary elections. We need to support this work and act together to develop an improved welfare system, proper democracy and freedom for the country for the first time in its 5000 year history.

"We need to support this work and act together to develop an improved welfare system, proper democracy and freedom for the country for the first time in its 5000 year history."

AEO: Do you think that the coming political elections will have any impact on how excavation is conducted in Egypt?

ZH: The elections should not have any impact on excavations in Egypt. They are not connected. Egyptians love their heritage and support my work in protecting it. 72 projects are being undertaken by the Ministry of State for Antiquities right now, including building many new museums, like the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza and the National Museum of Islamic Civilization in Old Cairo. Around 200 foreign missions are active in the country too.

AEO: How about Tourism?

ZH: Why should the elections affect tourism? What is happening in Egypt at the moment is internal. There are many foreigners in the country, and both those who live here and those who are just visiting feel safe. I hope more tourists come back, however, and I am working on a strategy of new museums and exciting announcements to renew the magic and mystery of Egypt for those abroad.

AEO: The way the Ministry of Antiquities is structured and operates?

ZH: I think my previous answers explain this. The election will not impact on the way the Ministry runs.

AEO: You had mentioned on your blog (Click this link for the original announcement) that the Serapeum, the tombs of Maya & Horemheb, the Suez Museum and other sites were being opened to the public to promote tourism. Have you witnessed an increase in tourists to Egypt as a result?

ZH: There was an increase in tourism in April, which is a vacation month, but a decrease again in May. I am hopeful that after the summer, when the high season starts again in October, tourists will come back in the same numbers as in the past.

AEO: Is the Ministry of Antiquities currently seeking repatriation of any objects as a priority?

ZH: At the moment, my priority is the protection of sites and the objects already here. The most important thing to me right now is the museums and sites.

AEO: Do you think recent events will have a effect on the argument for repatriation of ancient Egyptian objects?

ZH: I do not think that recent events should have an effect on my repatriation work. An Old Kingdom piece is going to be returned very soon from the Museum of Basel in Switzerland, for example, and we are waiting for the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask (Link) to come back too. (Please see the recent articles and press releases on my website for more information on these subjects: Zahi Hawass' Website) It was the young people demonstrating in Tahrir Square who protected the Egyptian Museum and it was the only one in the whole country to be robbed. That this was the case makes it clear that arguments to the contrary are unfounded and that it is safe for items to be repatriated. The second conference on International Cooperation for the Protection and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage (Conference Webpage) will be taking place soon too.

We would like to thank Dr. Hawass for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer some our questions - it was very enlightening, thank you.

*Photograph credit: Jennifer Willoughby 2009