“Al Sisi is doing a good job for Egypt”

Zahi Hawass, the pharaoh of Egyptology, tireless discoverer of treasures, promoter of the immense Grand Egyptian Museum, which should finally open its doors next year, and evoked Minister of Antiquities in the last months of Hosni Mubarak, fallen by the Arab Spring, today features a conference in Madrid at the Casa de las Alhajas as part of the exhibition Daughters of the Nile: Women and Society in Ancient Egypt. The Egyptologist born in Damietta in 1947 and author of numerous books and documentaries for National Geographic or Netflix answers without hesitation all questions about his work and his country, where he believes that General Al Sisi is doing “good work for the ‘Egypt”.

Were women as independent in ancient Egypt as the exhibit claims?

Completely independent. They had more rights than women in Europe in the 16th century. They could divorce, marry for love, they wore sophisticated dresses, well made up, they had different jobs, they worked in the pyramids, they made artefacts, kitchen utensils, they made bread for the workers of the pyramids, they salted fish, they sewed. .. They took care of the house first and if they had time they could be judges or do something else.

Why could they do everything that costs others so much?

The Egyptians believed that the Nile was made by the tears of Isis. And the goddess Hathor was the wife, the eye of the sun god Ra, and therefore she was also the wife of the pharaoh and the mother of the next king, without women there is no Egypt. Without Isis, there is no Egypt. For the Egyptians, women are very important in their society even though they cannot be pharaohs, they must be men, but there cannot be without women.

Are Egyptian women in Egypt today as free as they were then?

The women of modern Egypt are like the women of Madrid, exactly the same.

How is General Al Sisi’s current Egypt?

Al Sisi, in my opinion, is doing a good job for Egypt. He doesn’t seek to be liked by his people, but he does things to make Egypt stronger. Build highways everywhere, bring electricity and water to cities that don’t have it, that live in darkness. You now have universal health care, insurance, education, many universities, great things in education. I visited the new city of art and culture in the new capital three times. Unbelievable. A great museum, a magnificent opera house, and it preserves Egyptian culture. The Grand Egyptian Museum costs millions of dollars. Egypt needs this money and it builds it. I don’t want to be a minister, I’m beyond all that now, but I say it because that’s what I see from this man.

You say you don’t want to be a minister, do you think that when you were it was a mistake or would you have wanted to be a minister longer to make changes?

It was a mistake. When he was head of antiquities, he was nine years more important than when he was minister. I am not a politician, I am an archaeologist. And when I was head of Antiquities, I changed archeology in Egypt. Ask any Spanish archaeologist how everything changed. When I left the post of minister, I became more important than when I had it. I still dig, I make discoveries, I give courses all over the world, I write books, I train young people… I don’t have three free minutes in my life.

They want it all over the world, he says. Why do we still have this huge fascination with Egypt?

If you ask a child in Spain about Egypt they will think of pyramids, sphinxes, Tutankhamun, mummies, there is no culture that has that magic. Egypt has magic. Look at the Spaniards going to the Valley of the Kings. They are hungry looking at the temples, the tools, and they are happy that Egypt is safe for tourists.

This year marks the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter. You will organize a great congress.

On November 4 we will open the house of Howard Carter, and in front of the tomb there will be a major celebration, a dinner for 500 people in the temple of Luxor and we will have an international congress in which I will give the main lecture because I am the only Egyptologist to have completed Howard Carter’s work, using DNA to find Tutankhamun’s family and scanning to find out how he died. We’re working with DNA to find out if it was due to an infection or not. If he had, he died in an accident. And I’ve been digging through the Valley of the Kings for the past seven years looking for the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, her DNA mummy.

the Rosetta Stone

What led you to write the libretto for an opera on Tutankhamun which will premiere in November?

We do not yet know the exact date of the premiere, but I thought of writing it for the anniversary celebrated this year and also because the Aída opera has become old. It has been seen by millions of people. That’s enough. I wrote a drama, the composer and the singers are Italian, except for an Egyptian.

Is it the year of Egypt, as the Grand Egyptian Museum finally opens its doors?

No, it’s the year of Egypt because we are celebrating 200 years since the discovery of the ancient Egyptian language and in October I will be writing a petition which I hope will be signed by Egyptians and all over the world for the return of stone to our country Rosette. And then the return of the bust of Nefertiti. And then we will have the celebration of Tutankhamun. The Grand Egyptian Museum cannot be opened this year for two reasons. The first is that the area between the pyramids and the Grand Museum needs to be cleaned up, there are still a lot of ugly houses and such. And second, Egypt is hosting the climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, many heads of state and kings are attending, it needs a lot of security. This is why the Grand Museum will be open next year.

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