Thursday, April 7, 2011

Théâtre de l'Absurde de L'Egypte -Part 1- Zahi Hawass

Many Egyptians were outraged when they heard that Zahi Hawass had been appointed the position of the new Minister of Antiquities by the Essam Sharaf cabinet after his much celebrated resignation as Chief Antiquities Official. Despite his fame, Hawass is not necessarily internationally respected as an Egyptologist or scholar as much as he is famous for his resemblance to Indiana Jones. Hawass was even featured in a Hell's Kitchen style reality show Chasing Mummies by the History Channel, I don't see Gordon Ramsay appointed as the Minister of Agriculture. Most of those who know him and have worked with him personally attest to his megalomania, incompetence and corruption and yet openly admit that masturbating his ego is an important supplement to applications for permits for excavation and research in Egypt. Regardless of what Hawass's reasons were for his resignation, many seasoned and young archeologists were celebrating his resignation and considered it a victory of the #Jan25 uprising. His recent appointment as the Minister of Antiquities came as a shock considering his unequivocal support for deposed President Hosni Mubarak . There is no doubt that the Essam Sharaf cabinet and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces were aware of his position during the #Jan25 uprising, but regardless they still went ahead and appointed him as the new minister of the antiquities, despite their promises of a new fresh government free of elements of the old regime. The hypocrisy of the new government and the army is apparent, but Hawass's decision to honor the #Jan25 uprising by creating a revolution exhibit to be hosted in Cairo and 14 other European countries is the cherry on top of the Egyptian political theatre de l'absurde.

Most people have been enraged by the blatant hypocrisy of not just Zahi Hawass, but other public figures. The absurdity is seen as a testament to the incompetence or hypocrisy of the new regime, but the absurdity is rarely viewed as a tool of oppression in and of itself. Hawass has not suffered a blow to the head (though it might do him some good) where he's lost his memory and can stand there straight-faced commemorating an uprising that had deposed a leader he clearly supported in his widely aired interview with BBC. There is also no doubt that Hawass, the army and the Essam Sharif cabinet are completely aware that many Egyptians have not forgotten his statements during the uprising. If we look at how the state and its different elements represent themselves to the public as an intentional act of asserting their power, then we can look at absurdity as a state spectacle of its power. Man in the theatre de l'absurde is a puppet that has no control over his actions, powerless to change a meaningless world around him. Like Sisyphus, man's efforts are futile, repetitive and meaningless. Most of us react to the state's absurdity either with anger or amusement at their incompetence or hypocrisy, but rarely do we think of it as a deliberate message and tool to render clear logical thought, action and opposition meaningless and futile. The state's repeated and pervasive transcripts of absurdity construct the stage and plot of the theatre de l'absurde where they send a clear message that Egyptians are the powerless protagonists.

This post was theoretically inspired by James Scott's Domination and the Hidden Arts of Resistance: The Hidden Transcript and dedicated to the passionate committed Egyptologists that I know, whose names I won't mention so they can apply for permits for excavations and research.

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