Famed Egyptologist sentenced in corruption case


Zahi Hawass has long been a controversial figure. This well-known Egyptologist has been frequently called to task for showboating his science, but he's also generally popular in his native Egypt because of the attention he's brought to Egyptian history and culture. He served as Minister of Antiquities under former president Hosni Mubarak, and was appointed to the same position after Mubarak was ousted.

Now, Zahi Hawass might be going to jail.

On Sunday, an Egyptian court sentenced Hawass to a year in jail and a fine equivalent to $1600. The Al Jazeera article linked above doesn't do a very good job of explaining what Hawass had done to end up on the wrong side of the law. Luckily, the Talking Pyramids blog has the full story, and documentation. Their account makes the sentence sound like a pretty reasonably justified case of corruption.

Until December 2010, tourists visiting the Cairo Museum came in and out by the main entrance, on the south side of the building. Beside the entrance was a bookstore that opened many years ago. Every three years, the concession of this bookstore was publicly auctioned and given to the applicant who presented the best offering, in price and in merchandise. The last two auctions were won by Farid Atiya.

According to Farid Atiya, Dr Zahi Hawass was annoyed by Atiya's successful applications as Hawass wanted the concession of the book shop to be given to the American University in Cairo Press (AUC Press). In 2006 Mark Linz, the director of the AUC Press, told Atiya about the plans to build the new shop and that the AUC Press would be given the lease of the new shop. When Farid Atiya won the auction again in 2007 Dr Hawass swore that Atiya would not stay long.

Under the pretext of a museum embellishment, Dr Hawass had the idea of building a new gift shop on the western side of the museum. Visitors would enter the museum via the original entrance and would exit the museum through the new shop on the western side, thereby circumventing the old shop that was being leased to Atiya. The new shop was built and it's concession had to be auctioned to comply with the law.

In October 2009 the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) announced a limited auction to rent the Museum's new gift shop. In limited auctions only certain companies are invited, as opposed to a public auction in which any company can participate.
Later it would be revealed that Zahi Hawass' intention was to rent the new gift shop to a government owned company called "Sound and Light" and that this company would give the management of the shop to the AUC Press. The Sound and Light company is responsible for operating the Sound and Light show and other functions on the Giza plateau and other sites. In 1990 Zahi Hawass was the Member of the Board of Trustees of the Sound and Light company.