Monday, 18 July 2011
On Abdel-Fattah al-Banna - the new Antiquities Minister
Yesterday we heard the delightful news that Zahi Hawass had resigned from the Ministry of Antiquities - something many Egyptians had long been waiting to hear. It was about time the Mubarak of Antiquities, who had been head of the SCA for over 10 years, be removed.
However when I heard about his replacement, Abdel Fattah el-Banna, I was shocked. I first heard about el-Banna post Jan25 when he appeared several times protesting against Zahi Hawass. He had a group of followers, mostly fresh archaeology graduates, and others who had an interest in Egyptian archaeology, that I saw several times outside of the SCA building in Zamalek. His dislike of Zahi was obvious and there were always chants calling for Zahi's resignation. Unfortunately though it seems that el-Banna is somewhat crazy. A month or 2 after the ouster of Mubarak, I heard that a group of Egyptians with an interest in protecting Egypt's antiquities were surrounding the villa of American Egyptologist Mark Lehner. They were claiming that Mark was hiding antiquities inside. Mark is a very well-known and respected Egyptologist who has worked in Egypt for a very long time. His has done extremely important work in Giza especially with the worker's settlement there. He also organizes a yearly field-school for Egyptian archeologists that offers them a great opportunity to train in proper archaeological techniques - something that many Egyptian archaeologists would never have had the chance to do. I myself worked with Mark in Luxor on one of his fieldschools and saw how beneficial his work is to Egypt.
So when el-Banna spearheads a campaign to discredit Mark and claim that he is dealing in, or hiding Egyptian antiquities inside his dig-house in Haram, then I have to automatically cross-out el-Banna as credible. el-Banna even threatened to barge into the dig-house with his 'followers' to reclaim what was inside. Apart from that he has been campaigning tirelessly to be instated as the new antiquities minister - again another bad sign. It is obvious that in his strive for power, he will do anything, such as launching an attack on a respected Egyptologist's villa.
Although I sincerely believe that whoever should head the SCA should be someone far removed from the Egyptology sector (and el-Banna is a conservator not an Egyptologist) since most of those working in Egyptology have been corrupted by Zahi, I strongly disagree with the choice of el-Banna. However, I am also not in favour of the 'general strike' being called for by staff in the SCA because those calling for this strike are people who were very close to Zahi and benefited immensly from him. They are no doubt worried about their positions after el-Banna takes over and are only fighting to hold on to the corrupt benefits they were able to attain under Zahi. They have no interest in Egyptian antiquities and could not care less about the credentials of el-Banna. They simply want someone that will allow them to hold on to their positions, and obviously Banna will not do this. Where were these same people, that are now taking mass action, when Zahi was in power and his corruption was known to all?