Cairo, The Arab Weekly – “I think tourism can return this year,” said Egyptian archaeologist and former Antiquities minister Zahi Hawass. “We need a global campaign to bring tourists back and, if that can happen, then I think 2017 will be the year that tourists come back to Egypt.”
Hawass, speaking to The Arab Weekly at his cluttered central Cairo office, said he was continuing to promote Egyptian antiquities and Egyptian tourism on his foreign trips.
“Yes, this is the message that I am taking wherever I go: Egypt is safe. If you go to any archaeological site, it is completely protected,” he said. “The problem is we don’t know how to promote Egypt properly. The magic of monuments can bring everybody [back].”
The former long-time head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and then Antiquities minister, Hawass was in charge of Egypt’s museum and monuments, including the pyramids of Giza. Although he no longer has a position in government, Hawass remains a dedicated archaeologist and is involved with many archaeological projects, including plans to re-scan the Great Pyramid and the Valley of the Kings.
He said he hoped that new discoveries would catch the public’s imagination and draw tourists back to Egypt.
There is some light on the horizon. British travel group Thomas Cook has announced an increase in demand for holidays in Egypt, even though a British ban on direct flights to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el- Sheikh after a Russian airliner crashed in northern Sinai in October 2015 remains in place.
Russia has also indicated a renewed openness to resuming direct flights to Egypt this year. Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland earlier lifted travel restrictions to Sharm el-Sheikh and Cairo recently announced the establishment of a fund worth an estimated $280 million to upgrade hotels and tourist resorts in expectation of a new influx.
Even if the tourists do not return to Egypt to see its antiquities, Hawass said he has a plan to take Egypt’s antiquities to them.
“Antiquities can be like the chicken that lays the golden egg… every day,” he said. “I think from antiquities, Egypt can solve many of its problems. Even if the tourists are not coming, you can bring money in by sending exhibits abroad.
“The King Tutankhamun exhibit that I sent to London brought $120 million to Egypt. Exhibits such as this are the only way to bring money back into the country.”
The Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds exhibit, showcasing artefacts and statues from the lost cities of Canopus and Thonis- Heracleion, was at London’s British Museum last year. Egypt is also preparing for a new international Tutankhamun exhibit for 2018 that will have stops in several major European capitals, culminating in a major celebration in Cairo in 2022 for the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Hawass is perhaps better known for his campaign to return stolen artefacts to Egypt. It is a campaign that remains close to his heart. “What has been stolen from Egypt is known and clear. Many museums are still utilising imperialism until today. They are buying stolen artefacts,” he said.
“We don’t have any account of how many artefacts have been stolen after the revolution. I believe that there is only one-third of our artefacts left in the country. Many artefacts are being sold without the proper documentation. I insist that all auctions require such documentation before they sell any artefact.”
Egypt has recovered some historical items stolen since 2011, including an ancient Egyptian artefact carved in glass that was looted from museum storehouses in the Nile Delta city of el- Qantara. It was recently handed over to the Egyptian embassy in London. Artefacts taken out of the country before the revolution are slowly being returned to Egypt in a campaign started by Hawass.
Seated behind a desk overflowing with books and papers and his signature Stetson hat, Hawass said he does not look back at his career in government, but forward to more archaeological discoveries.
“There is a lot more to come,” he said. “Personally, I believe that the imperial chamber of Khufu is still undiscovered in the Great Pyramid. There is also the scanning of the Valley of the Kings, where the tomb of Amenhotep I has not been found yet. The tombs of Thutmose II, Ramses VIII, all the queens of the 18th dynasty, I feel that this will be the most important archaeological project of 2018 and I am very much looking forward to it.”