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?


mayhamid said...

Thank you nora for the very informative note. Sometimes we are lucky to have some one from within the field to give us a fair judgement of a situation and of certain people whom we probably as ordinary citizens will not know. This is something among my major concerns these days. Many good people are taken out from posts (not Zahi definitely) just because their corrupt staff are chanting against them using a revolutionary tone to attract the masses to support them . The ultimate result is we lose calibers or experts we need (such as the Egyptologist u r referring to ) just because we were not prudent enough to double check what we hear. And by the way I know for sure also from my work that corruption at the lower levels is greater and these r the people that have make noise now to have full control of their institutions to make full use of it. We really need to be careful that revolutionnaries do not become " mob" and this is the major morale of the story. Thank you

Soo said...

Hey Nora, I am an Egyptologist myself and have worked at the SCA for 4 years (currently on leave of absence). I agree with you that El Banna is an extremely poor choice for a minister and I also do agree that corruption is rife in the ministry of antiquities. I only disagree with you when you say that most people calling for the strike are people that benefited from Zahi. Those people do exist and would do such a campaign in fear for their jobs. But as you yourself stated El Banna's smear campaign against Zahi and his unfounded attacks on Mark Lehner go to show that everyone in the SCA is currently threatened (including people like Mark who did nothing but contribute to the field). So a campaign against him now cannot be labeled as corrupt people holding on to their jobs because the way I see it, most Egyptologists will sooner or later attempt to fight back a minister who has proven to be anything but credible.
Sarah Marei

Anonymous said...

Is this the crazy guy who was calling the National Geographic Society a zionist organization? Anyway, apparently Sharaf has reconsidered after pressure from archeologists and al-Banna is no longer in the running for the position. I vote they bring back Gaballah.

minnesotaMasonic said...

Give him a chance, he can't be any worse than hawass.

Anonymous said...

"Where were these same people, that are now taking mass action, when Zahi was in power and his corruption was known to all? "

And where were you?

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous on 19 July, 00:50:

You asked where was Nora Shalaby when Hawass was still in power? Well, if you bothered to read her blog or follow her on twitter you'd know she has long been a strong critic of Zahi Hawass. She participated in several public demonstrations against him and his policies (when he was still minister), when many others were afraid to do so for fear of losing their jobs, given Hawass' vindictive nature. Where were you?

Nora Shalaby said...

Hi Sarah,

I did maybe overgeneralize a bit when I said that everyone calling for a strike where those who had previously benefited from Zahi. Of course there are people in the SCA who are not corrupt and were aware of the incompetence of Banna. It's just that the names that were at the forefront of this strike call were those associated with Zahi, so I was quite skeptical about the whole thing. But you are absolutely right and I should not have generalized.

L Pierson said...

As a Belgian amateur egyptologist, in love with the country of Egypt and its past (not with the political system), and after numerous visits, I ask myself: who in the elite is not corrupt and has credibility /neutrality to serve the interest of the commom Egyptians (!) in this difficult transition because a fruitful democracy is not produced just like that ! It needs gradual political BUT ALSO cultural change towards a society of opportunities where every individual (man, woman and child)has the right of developing his talents, choice of destiny, choice of marriage and the number of children, WITHOUT the power of somebody else looming over you. Only after these changes can Egypt, in my opinion, safeguard its future and its past from politicians feeding on a bad system, and develop economic and social incentives to an honest prosperous society !!

Soo said...

Hi Nora,

Thank you for responding. I was just really anxious that morning knowing the background on El Banna. I was rightfully worried for he has been trying to manipulate for himself a fan club using his nationalism and love for Egypt. The first statement he gave when he was told he was to be Minister was "I am from Egypt's streets and will remain in Egypt streets". Being on the inside and knowing that he is the type who can and will make false statements to gain ground is not the same as being on the outside and believing him. I was very grateful to read your blog though.
Lets keep the truth churning out and provide all sides we can for the news and figures.

Anonymous said...

Can the antiquities that are at risk afford this bickering and lack of leadership? It is the artifacts and monuments that will suffer , though as livelihoods are at stake, there is bound to be a loss of jobs. Given tourism to see the sites is Egypt's main source of foreign income, it needs to be resolved at once before this trade deteriorates further.

Alexandra Grahn said...

Hi Nora!

I've been trying to contact you. My name is Alexandra Grahn and I’m studying at the Linnaeus University in Sweden. Currently I am writing my Bachelor Paper in Media and Communications, specifying in development work. The theme of my paper is the use of social media during the revolution in Egypt that occurred this winter. My research investigates how different forms of social media have influenced the outcomes of the conflict. I am using some of the largest communication forums as a basis for my research; Twitter, Facebook and blogs in general. The foundation of my research contains of interviews with people who used these tools in order to report the ongoing events in Egypt to the rest of the world.

I am interested in getting your perspective about the use of social media in this context. What was your aim with your updates about the conflict? Did you experience any resistance to your comments you posted online? Etc, etc…

Your answers would be very helpful for me and it wont take long. Would you consider it? Please get back to me to my email:

Kind regards

maha bahnassi said...

الأستاذةالفاضلة/نورا شلبى

تحية طيبة
أقوم بإجراء دراسة عن المدونين فى مصر فى إطار رسالتى للماجستير ،وأتشرف بإضافة مدونتكم فى عينة المدونات الخاصة بى ، وأرجو من سيادتكم تزويدى بعنوان البريد الالكترونى للإجابة عن استمارة الاستقصاء ، وسيكون لكم جزيل الشكر على تعاونكم واهتمامكم ، وأتشرف بالرد على أى استفسار بخصوص طلبى .

مع شكرى للاهتمام والتعاون مرة أخرى
مها بهنسى المعيدة بكلية الإعلام-جامعة القاهرة

Tom said...

Hi Nora,

I'm an archaeologist/writer/TV producer based in London and I'm keen to talk to you about an article that I am working on. I can't seem to find your contact details online - could you contact me via my email address below and I can give you more information?

Best wishes


maha bahnassi said...

استاذة نورا
مازلت انتظر رد سيادتك لتزويدى بعنوان البريد الالكترونى للاجابة على استمارة الاستقصاء الخاصة بى حيث احتاج اليها فى وقت قريب ، وانا مهتمة بمدونتك ولذلك ارجو منك مساعدتى .
مها بهنسى
معيدة بكلية الاعلام جامعة القاهرة