Abstract and Keywords
Habachi and Werner Kaiser shared an interest of the cataract region. Strategically, Elephantine was crucial as it commanded the Nile cataracts and the channels that enabled communication by water between Egypt and its neighborhood. It was the starting point of the great caravan routes, which passed some of the earliest commercial and military expeditions made by Egyptians. Egypt's political boundary with Nubia did not remain static, especially when new territory was incorporated into the Egyptian state. Meanwhile, Habachi lost no time in making his way to the Antiquities Department to retrieve his manuscript. With the stabilization of the Nile, permanent settlements could now be built on the floodplain and agricultural land was lost to urban expansion. The government launched a “green revolution” to make up for this loss.
“And then Heqaib came into my life again.” Habachi's eyes lit up and he broke into a smile as we sat at his dining room table. The German Archaeological Institute, in cooperation with the Swiss Institute for Architectural and Archaeological Research, was granted a concession in 1969 to clear and document all the monuments of the ancient town at the southern tip of Elephantine Island. “The Sanctuary of Heqaib, which I discovered in 1946, fell within the area, and Werner Kaiser, the director of the project, encouraged me to reactivate my efforts to have my manuscript released from the Antiquities Department for publication as part of their series.”
Kaiser and Habachi shared an interest of the cataract region (“We spent many pleasant hours together discussing the unique history of the island, from antiquity to the present day”). Before the construction of the High Dam, Elephantine was strategically important because it commanded the Nile cataracts and the channels that enabled communication by water between Egypt and its southern neighbour. It was the starting point of the great caravan routes, along which passed some of the earliest commercial and military expeditions made by Egyptians. Aswan was never a great city with a large sedentary community as was Luxor. In fact, (p.238)
Because Elephantine was separated from the mainland, occupation was constant over thousands of years. As parts of ancient buildings collapsed and walls crumbled with the passage of time, these weakened sections were broken down and used to fill the inside of the remaining wall. This formed a solid foundation for new buildings. Layer upon layer of habitation, on successive tiers of ruin, resulted in the town being built on higher and higher ground (“This allowed archaeologists to trace the history of the settlement with accuracy rare in other places”). Theoretically, the strata should follow historical sequence, with the lower level, the earliest, superimposed with monuments of successive periods right through to the Greco-Roman period. In the case of Elephantine, the situation was much more complex. “You see,” said Habachi, “there were periods when buildings and the objects in them (p.239) were deliberately mutilated and destroyed for political reasons before the desert sand enveloped them. Sometimes structures were built from stones that had fallen from earlier buildings, or in other cases buildings were dismantled and the stones reused. There were also times when certain structures were abandoned, and then rebuilt during a later phase of occupation, as is apparent in the Sanctuary of Heqaib.”
Habachi lost no time in making his way to the Antiquities Department to retrieve his manuscript. Five years had passed since his resignation, “but I felt a wave of bureaucratic hostility hit me the moment I approached. And worse, I was physically barred from entering the building and could not retrieve the manuscript.” Habachi did not know that Shoukry's instructions that he was not to be made welcome in the department after his resignation had never been rescinded. So he was confused. “I could not understand it,” Habachi said, “this reluctance to give me back a text that served no purpose lying where it was. Nobody could explain why it should not be returned to me. The inability of some of my compatriots to take responsibility for making decisions is so frustrating,” he said. Mokhtar, who became under-secretary of state for monuments and museums in 1968, explained the phenomenon differently. “It is not that Egyptian officials do not know how to take initiative,” he said. “It is due to a system with frequently conflicting regulations and no criteria to decide what should, and should not, be done. No one wants to put his neck at stake. Poor Labib continued to haunt the halls of the department for six long years before his manuscript was finally released.”
The mood in the 1960s was one of cautious optimism. It was at first thought that the High Dam would improve conditions for the conservation of monuments in Egypt because the stabilization of the river meant that the danger of high floods would be overcome and this, in turn, would facilitate the reinforcement of undermined foundations of monuments and prevent further collapse of large structures. It soon became clear, (p.240) however, that the raised average water table damaged reliefs through seepage and salt erosion, which was even more serious. Aghast, scholars and visitors alike watched decay creeping up temple walls over successive seasons like some cursed disease, leaving reliefs pimpled and festered and ready to flake off. The Franco-Egyptian Center at Karnak, sponsored by the Egyptian government and the Center of Research for France (CNRS), became actively engaged in studies on such progressive deterioration. Experiments were carried out but methods of conservation successfully applied in other countries proved less effective in Egypt.
Other problems soon came to light. With the stabilization of the Nile, permanent settlements could now be built on the floodplain and agricultural land was lost to urban expansion. The government launched a “green revolution” to reclaim the desert and make up for this loss. As a result, archaeological sites were threatened by water seepage from irrigation. An even more serious situation developed in the Delta; whereas the flood had annually washed out the soil, salts now rose to the surface. This not only adversely affected agriculture but put unexcavated and partially excavated sites at risk. A call was put out by the Antiquities Department (similar to that made by Habachi a quarter of a century earlier) to encourage foreign missions to concentrate their activities in the Delta before it was too late. Then there was the question of the vast artificial body of water in Lake Nasser, which increased humidity. Upper Egypt experienced an increase in rainfall. All these factors had adverse effects on ancient monuments.
Faced with new challenges, drastic measures were needed, and Mokhtar, as under-secretary of state, was ideally suited to the task of developing a national cultural policy. A prominent and passionate advocate of Egyptian culture, honored both at home and abroad, Mokhtar stands out as a key figure in twentieth century Egyptian archaeology. Born in 1918, he obtained a doctorate from Ain Shams University in 1957, was appointed archaeological consultant to UNESCO in 1967, and held the post of the organization's presidency until 1977. He transformed the Egyptian Antiquities Department into the newly founded Egyptian Antiquities Organization (EAO) in 1972. I was fortunate to have known (p.241) him and to have had the opportunity of talking with Mokhtar about Labib Habachi's career as well as the steps he took following the founding of the EAO.
“All Egyptian antiquities were placed under one roof,” Mokhtar said. “Hitherto, excavation and restoration tended to be concentrated on pharaonic monuments, but now this was expanded to include predynastic, pharaonic, Coptic, Greco-Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, and Nubian studies and monuments as well as modern early nineteenth century mansions. I was faced with an enormous, almost impossible task.” We sat in the Hilton cafeteria one sunny afternoon in June 1989 while Mokhtar explained what it meant to be supervizing hundreds of thousands of antiquities all over Egypt and a staff of over sixteen thousand. “My job involved a great deal of friction with other government officials. Let me add that ministers and governors were the main offenders. You see,” he went on, “the main problem with my position was that it held a great deal of accountability but had none of the authority needed to get anything done properly.” Mokhtar proceeded to describe how a major garbage disposal company had gradually taken over the land of Fustat (Old Cairo), the site of the first Arab capital. “Theoretically, the land belonged to the EAO because it had been recognized as an archaeologically protected area early in the century,” he explained, “but despite a number of court rulings that ordered the company to vacate the land, the law was never implemented. To make matters worse, the owner of the garbage disposal company became a member of the People's Assembly and, lo and behold, as head of the EAO, I was myself investigated for infringement on land belonging to the garbage disposal company! It is situations like this which will inevitably stand in the way of progress in any area of work in Egypt.”
On another occasion, Mokhtar described mistakes that were made by the EAO. He placed his hand on a miniature replica of the museum built at Giza to house Khufu's boat, discovered in 1954. “What are we to do with this,” he said. “It has been a disaster from beginning to end. The boat was an important archaeological discovery by any standards and, because it was made just after the revolution, was a source of national pride. Eager (p.242)
I myself was witness to some of the events that followed the discovery of the Giza boat by Kamal el-Mallakh. As the wife of Nabeeh Kamil, a member of the State Information Service (later to be renamed the Ministry of Culture and National Guidance), who was a close friend of Abdel-Moneim Abu Bakr, chief inspector of antiquities at Giza, I had the opportunity to watch three stages of the work being carried out: the removal of the stone blocks that covered the boat pit, the construction of a brick shelter in which to house the vast timbers as they were excavated, and the work of Ahmed Youssef Mustafa (Hagg Youssef, as he was known after his pilgrimage to Mecca), the chief restorer of the Antiquities Department who was in charge of the work. Hagg Youssef started his career as a restorer under the auspices of George Reisner at Giza, where he learned the technique of repairing wood as he worked on the gilded wooden furniture of the Queen Hetep-Heres. Later, he reconstructed a completely squashed gold mask from a royal tomb in Tanis, which had collapsed after the decay of its wooden core. Respected for his painstaking and accurate work, he was fondly known as “the man with the golden arm.”
(p.243) The 4,600-year-old vessel had been dismantled with care and purpose in ancient times and the 1,224 individual parts were carefully arranged in thirteen layers in order to fit into the boat pit. On top of the wood was a layer of mats and ropes. As the contents were removed, Hagg Youssef preserved each piece in a special solution before it being placed in the brick building. The thick floor beams at the center of the chamber were temporarily pegged together, and the other planks were grouped on either side as they appeared to lie. He predicted that it would take ten years to reconstruct the boat. In fact, it took many more. When the forty-three-meter long and eight-meter high vessel was at last assembled in the shelter it was magnificent to see. It was flat-bottomed with a massive curving hull. The thick planks of cedarwood imported from Lebanon were literally sewn together with a system of ropes looped through holes that met on the inside. The elegant prow and stern posts were in the form of papyrus-bud finials. Propulsion of the ship was by means of ten oars, steered using two large oar rudders. On deck was a small forward cabin, probably for the captain. Dozens of meters of rope were found in coiled confusion at the bottom of the pit.
“It was assumed by those who were witness to the slow and painstaking reconstruction of the boat that the brick shelter would be the core of a museum to be built around it. But the government had other things in mind,” said Mokhtar. “An international tender was invited for a new museum to be designed and that of Italian architect France Minissi was chosen. That was the first major mistake. Over a period of fourteen years, Hagg Youssef had almost single-handedly reconstructed the huge vessel and now it had to be dismantled and placed in a new boat-shaped museum made of colored glass. It was considered the last word in museum technology but it was totally unsuited for the pyramid plateau,” Mokhtar noted, “because while it screened out direct sunlight, its special sunscreen glass created a hothouse effect. At times the temperature of the boat's timber was raised to more than double the 22 degrees Celcius at which it had been kept during the thousands of years it had been buried. When the “boat museum” was briefly opened to the public, visitors complained about the heat and humidity. So fans were installed, which unfortunately did little (p.244) more than circulate the hot trapped air. In addition, the influx of tourists raised the already high levels of air humidity, which, along with the high temperature, caused the wood to expand and contract dangerously.
“When finally the seriousness of the problem was realized,” Mokhtar said, “there was a great deal of bureaucratic politicking. Discussions ranged round whether the glass museum should be dismantled and a completely new one designed, or should air conditioning be installed? One of the major problems of our revolutionary government is that it placed almost total responsibility for economic, social, and cultural planning on the shoulders of the bureaucracy, so there is no centralized planning. When decision-making overlaps, mistakes are made.” It is important to note Mokhtar's remarks because even today there is an avoidance of communication between various ministries, as a result of which serious errors of judgment continue to be made.
“The boat museum may have been considered the best of the projects, an elegant modern structure, but it was bound to fail,” said Mokhtar, “because the environmental conditions of the plateau were not taken into account. Air conditioners could not be installed because generators would cause vibrations that might cause damage to neighboring tombs. Then it was suggested that the museum itself was a serious fire hazard because the boat, floor, and ceiling were made of wood, so the government acquired fire extinguishers.” The media made fun of it, asking whether three or four miniature fire extinguishers placed around the building, some still in their plastic bags, could put out a fire! Headlines read: “Death Throes of the Cheops Boat,” “Emergency Plan to Save the Cheops Boat,” and “The Deteriorating Boat.” So the museum was closed to visitors. “If you do something right in the first place, you don't have to rectify it,” Mokhtar concluded.
Gamal Mokhtar had very definite views on the conservation of Egypt's ancient heritage, and he and Habachi shared their conviction about the need to encourage foreign participation in excavation and restoration. “Too many Egyptians think they are capable of doing it all by themselves,” said Habachi, while Mokhtar pointed out, “Financially we need assistance, and technically we have not yet reached the level of expertise attained by some (p.245) international organizations, so we need to encourage joint projects. One way to do this is to activate public interest in ancient Egypt and that was when I decided to organize traveling exhibitions abroad.” It was he who promoted the idea that Egyptian monuments belonged not only to Egypt but to the whole world, and he organized the first exhibition of Tutankhamun's treasures abroad in the 1970s.
Mokhtar had a difficult time attempting to set the EAO on the right track. He admitted that he himself had made some errors of judgment. Aware of the fragile condition of many of the tombs on the Theban necropolis, for example, especially that of Queen Nefertari, he was instrumental in establishing a partnership between the Getty Conservation Institute and the EAO for its restoration. A multidisciplinary, international group of experts conducted an intensive six-year campaign that included an assessment of its condition, analysis, emergency treatment, and conservation of the extraordinary wall paintings. “One objective of any conservation effort is to maintain the site's historical integrity, so treatment of the wall paintings in this case was limited to consolidation and cleaning,” he explained. “The training of local and foreign conservators was considered an important part of the project, and the diagnostic methods that were developed were later applied to the conservation of wall paintings at other sites. … Unfortunately,” Mokhtar went on, “when a gift of one million dollars was received from a prominent personality which should have been earmarked for this project, I was out of the country, and by the time I returned, three-quarters of the money had been allocated to other cultural activities! The remaining funds were not sufficient for the tomb, so the whole project had to be delayed. I used the remaining funds to develop the Sound and Light spectacles at Karnak and Philae and to complete the Luxor Museum, designed by Mahmoud el-Hakim.” Habachi said, “My friend, Mahmoud, was lucky. If it weren't for the misuse of the original funds, I doubt that his museum would ever have seen the light of day!” (p.246)
In the early 1970s, Habachi resuscitated the lecture series at the Luxor Inspectorate started by Selim Hassan, and personally went around recruiting people to give talks on different subjects. Among them were many of his friends, including Kamal el-Mallakh, who became the (p.247) mouthpiece for the Antiquities Department in the daily newspaper, al-Ahram; Ahmed Fakhry, who gave lively presentations about the oases inthe Western Desert; Hassan Fathy, the architect who built Gurna village on the Theban necropolis inspired by adobe Nubian houses, who also talked about his plan to build another at Bagawat; and Mahmoud el-Hakim, the leading architect who drew up the plan for Egypt's first modern museum, the Luxor Museum. Among those who regularly attended the lectures were Habachi's long-time friends Dorothy Eady (better known as Umm Seti, or mother of Seti) and Hany Zeiny, who spoke about trade routes and mines in the Eastern Desert. Habachi's own lectures covered a wide range of subjects in Egyptology: history, administration, the recording of texts, Egypt's relations with neighbouring countries, chance discoveries, and fieldwork. “He frequently came up with new ideas, and gave an endless variety of examples of his talents very modestly,” said Zeiny. “Labib's concern about the need to protect the monuments was one reason why he and Umm Seti got on so well together. They had a common language. They were both in touch with the past but in different ways. Hers was spiritual, his archaeological. His studies on the deification or Ramesses II are an important contribution to the problem of royal canonization (Habachi, 1969), and his research on this pharaoh's military posts built in the Western Desert in his reign threw new light on Egyptian military policy in his lifetime. Labib would often ring me up at Nag Hammadi and say, ‘Let's make a surprise visit to Umm Seti.’”
Dorothy Eady of Blackheath, England, was fascinated with ancient Egypt from an early age and spent much time in the British Museum's Egyptian collection. She first came to Egypt in 1933, married an Egyptian called Imam Abdel-Meguid, studied hieroglyphics in Cairo Museum, and named their son, at her wish, Seti (hence her name). The marriage lasted for three years and ended in divorce, but during that time she improved her knowledge of hieroglyphics and, with her talent for drawing, she easily landed a position as draftsman with the EAO. She was the first woman ever to be hired in that capacity. “Umm Seti was a far more serious scholar than noted in the popular press,” said Zeiny. “She was an extremely competent Egyptologist. She edited the (p.248) text and did the illustrations for Selim Hassan's ten-volume publication on excavations at Giza, and when Selim Hassan retired, she moved with her son into a small house in the village of Nazlat al-Simman, near the Sphinx. She worked as Ahmed Fakhry's research assistant at Dahshur, and when Edouard Ghazouli began to supervise restoration of the temple of Seti at Abydos in 1956, Umm Seti helped him sort out inscribed stone fragments and translate the texts. The job lasted until 1959, when Ghazouli's budget was exhausted, and after that she had to struggle to make ends meet.
“Most expatriates living in Egypt, especially Americans, regarded Umm Seti as an eccentric because she lived in a simple mud-brick building at Abydos, dressed simply, ate frugally, and, in her later years, fantasized about having been Bintreshyt, the daughter of a soldier and a vegetable vendor in the reign of Seti I,” said Zeiny. “But you only had to watch Umm Seti and Habachi together to realize what a great scholar she was. They made a wonderful team. Both were authorities on the New Kingdom and had an infectious enthusiasm for the era. Labib would talk about ‘Ramesses the Inevitable’ and describe his monuments at Abu Simbel and places in Lower Nubia, and Umm Seti would say, ‘You can't blame a man with drive who had so many lazy people working for him.’ They would quarrel endlessly about Khaemwest, son of Ramesses II. Umm Seti would say, ‘He was an inspector of antiquities just like you,’ to which Labib would add, ‘But not as good!’ Then she would interrupt, ‘He was better. He took care of antiquities all over the place, not just in one place like you!’”
Gamal Mokhtar recalled with affection that “Umm Seti was always ready to encourage the local inspectors and help them with their reports. When she officially retired at the age of sixty-five, they were concerned about how she would live, and Labib spread word of her need. He approached Americans at Chicago House, wealthy friends, and retired Egyptologists in Cairo and Alexandria, and each month he managed to collect an envelope which he personally handed over to a local inspector headed for Upper Egypt with instructions to drop it off at Abydos along with supplies of tea, sugar, and honey. They were the only items she (p.249) accepted,” Mokhtar said, adding, “Despite the low salaries of the inspectors, they held Umm Seti in such high esteem that they made regular contributions to her upkeep. Labib's donation was always generous.”
Labib Habachi's manuscript was finally released from the EAO in 1975. “I well remember the day I went to Gamal Mokhtar's office to find him smiling his warm smile and holding out a worn-looking bundle of papers toward me,” Habachi recalled. “When I saw the handwritten title, The Temple of Hekaib, I could hardly believe my eyes. When I came toexamine the text, however, I realized how far I had come: both my handwriting and presentation looked so immature. Some of the chapters would have to be reorganized, various texts restudied and expanded, and my conclusions were weak. I told Kaiser of my suggested improvements and he agreed. Then I cleared this table,” he said, pointing to his dining room table, “spread out the different chapters of the book at one end, and the photographs and drawings at the other.” Atteya added, “We only cleared it for parties after that.”
Habachi worked on the manuscript for nearly two years before going back to Elephantine. When he did, he was in for a shock. He found the storeroom locked and he was refused entry. Gerhardt Haeny, director of the Swiss Institute, who accompanied him on this occasion, confirmed that this was the case: “Labib was furious. We were told that the reason was ‘security,’ but Labib was clearly humiliated.” It gave him the distinct impression that there was something to hide. Perhaps objects were missing (“Why, otherwise, when the government has officially declared that any scholar who has excavated in Nubia should have free access to any monument, museum, or storeroom in Egypt on request, was this door closed to me?”). Made incautious by anger, Habachi made his suspicions known. “I went to the Antiquities Department and told them I suspected theft, and I wrote to Gamal Mokhtar for official permission to inspect the objects. He himself accompanied me to Elephantine with a group of high-ranking officials. Among them was Henri Riad, who was as familiar as I with the objects. When we opened the storeroom and examined its contents we found that twelve objects were missing. One was a fine piece that I found in April 1946, a head of grey granite from a statue, sixteen centimeters (p.250) high, which had been found inside the chapel of Kha-kaure-Seneb. Only the front part of the head was intact so it had not been possible to attach it to the torso of the statue. The features were beautifully carved.”
The Antiquities Department finally admitted to a theft on Elephantine, “but that,” said Habachi with contempt, “was only when they could hardly avoid the issue because one item—part of a wall describing “the god's father, Ankhu, son of Merestekh”—appeared on the Cairo market for sale. I provided a list of the missing objects and an investigation was carried out, but not one of the pieces was ever recovered. In one of the private collections in the world is the upper part of a seated statue of a man carved in grey granite, forty centimeters high—a real treasure. He wears a long garment tied at the waist, and his features are carefully rendered. His wig has pointed ends. I remember it well.”
After Habachi's death in 1984, when Henri Riad and I were sorting out some of the photographs in the Labib Habachi Archives at Chicago House, he identified the missing statue head. He said that to the best of his recollection, the theft had occurred during the Bairam feast when guard duty was especially lax: “Holes had been made in the storeroom for the installation of air conditioning, so it was not difficult for the robbers to dislodge the wooden beams and gain entry.”
Over many years as inspector of antiquities, Habachi had given a great deal of thought to the pillage of poorly protected archaeological sites and storerooms, and had worried about the extent of looting that invariably followed an excavation. He had visited sites during excavations, and when he returned, sometimes several years later, he realized the extent of the damage. “Teams excavated and then did not devote enough care to protecting the monuments they uncovered. Antiquities dealers are aware of the high esteem in which the western world holds ancient objects, so they cannot be blamed for taking advantage. Archaeologists showed would-be robbers exactly where treasures might lie. Let me add that Flinders Petrie, the great British excavator, was one of the main offenders. He was a bit like Ramesses II in the sense that he left no site untouched! He put his hand on all the important sites and even some of the lesser ones, and after he spent one or two seasons at work on each, he (p.251) departed and the treasure hunters moved in and ravished the area. There is a local legend about the “kind khawaga (foreigner) Badri who showed them exactly where to dig!” All his life, Habachi remained obsessed with the problems of vandalism of the ancient monuments. “He talked about them as though they were his own personal property,” said Zeiny.
The looting of monuments and smuggling of antiquities abroad reached an all-time high during the operations in Nubia. Many archaeological sites in Egypt were left largely unprotected and robbers and antiquities dealers had a field day. Objects were dug up by gangs of workmen in broad daylight and shipped abroad. “The government eventually became aware of the problem and took drastic but totally ineffective measures,” said Habachi. “A decision was taken to absorb the manpower released after completion of the High Dam to police archaeological sites. What an appalling decision! The people appointed had no sense of the value of what they were protecting and, in any case, they received such meager salaries that they felt their country owed them more than they were getting. Can you imagine a more thankless job than to guard over guards who resent you? Many of the Nubians were honest guards and deeply resented the intrusion. Others were only too pleased to make extra money by turning a blind eye. It was a vicious circle. The security police intimidated the guards because they themselves were subjected to bribes by antiquities dealers. Who knows how many palms are greased and backs turned to facilitate the illegal activities.”
Labib Habachi decided to present a paper entitled “Damages and Robberies of Egyptian Monuments in the Last Half-century” at the first International Congress of Egyptology (ICE) in 1976. His Egyptian colleagues were aghast. They told him in no uncertain terms that such revelations would put an ugly face on Egypt and Egyptology. “They tried in every way possible to dissuade me from giving the paper, but I had no intention of backing out. They accused me of being unpatriotic. They reminded me that this was a gathering of professionals from all over the world and said that I would shame my country if I suggested that they were incompetent. I told them back that we should not be afraid to call a spade a spade. I said that it was about time the government acknowledged (p.252) the problem as a step toward solving it. Too sad that our officials suffer from the ostrich syndrome: so long as no one knows, no one can be accused of incompetence! I said that it was about time we woke up. Illicit trade in antiquities was being talked about around the world and it was time to present a case for Egypt. I reminded them that tomb robbing was a highly organized crime even in pharaonic times, but that when ancient robbers were caught they were tried and punished. The famous Abbot and Amherst Papyri give details of sixty priests and officials on the Theban necropolis who were arrested for complicity in the desecration of tombs. If order was enforced in ancient times, and grave robbers were brought to justice, I suggested that we should do no less with modern robbers.”
The lecture hall was overflowing for Habachi's groundbreaking presentation, which he delivered with aplomb. Latecomers spilled over into the corridor. He described some of the most well-known and theoretically well-protected areas that had suffered most seriously from vandalism, and astounded his audience when he mentioned Giza, Memphis, Dendara, and Deir al-Medina among them. He called for collaboration by the curators of foreign museums to refrain from buying objects before making sure of their status with the Egyptian authorities, and for the Antiquities Department to ensure that storehouses were properly constructed and guarded. He laid stress on the need for proper documentation: “How do you know something is missing if you don't know what's there in the first place?” he asked rhetorically. He described examples of vandalism and theft that he had personally witnessed in his travels as inspector, mentioning papyri stolen from al-Kab, Saqqara, Luxor, Esna, and Edfu. “I have seen Swiss and Polish scholars having their cases searched for smuggled antiquities,” he declared. “I was at Saqqara when 280 objects disappeared when the British were searching for the tomb of Imhotep, and Zagazig railway station is a virtual market place for dealers in antiquities dug up at Tell Basta.” Habachi said that he had made a list of all the places where antiquities were hewn out of temple walls and made mention that “some well-known museum collectors” should be placed in the same category as grave robbers “because they come to our country to acquire priceless objects through entrepreneurs (p.253) who do their dirty work for them. Foreigners accuse us Egyptians of not doing enough to safeguard our heritage while some of them are as guilty as the vandals themselves.”
After the lecture, Habachi was lost in the pressure of eager acclaim. “I was pleased to see quite a large number of my Egyptian colleagues in attendance, even those who had warned me against reading my paper. It was a real triumph. Believe me, had I given the lecture to an exclusively Egyptian audience, I would have had nothing but criticism. Funny thing about my people,” he added, “only when they see foreigners responding favorably to something are they encouraged to be positive about it themselves. William Kelly Simpson congratulated me. He said that the market for smuggled Egyptian antiquities, especially in Europe, the United States, and Japan, is huge and that stiffer penalties to the antiquities law needed to be enforced. He voiced the opinion that if a stolen object was immediately reported by the Egyptian authorities to Interpol, museums around the world would hesitate before making purchases.”
Ironically, only in the 1990s, nearly fifteen years after Habachi's lecture, did the recently reformed Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) manage to procure strong ties with the International Police Organisation (Interpol) and customs agencies all over the world, and, together with the newly formed Department for the Recovery of Stolen Artifacts (DRSA), watch for signs of lost treasures. Incidentally, it was not until April 1995, ten years after Labib Habachi's death, that the minister of culture, Farouk Hosni, admitted that over three hundred artifacts had been stolen, mostly from storehouses, and smuggled abroad since 1969 (Egyptian Gazette, April 4, 1995). He also admitted that the storehouses at archaeological sites had not been inspected for fifty years.
Today, twenty-three years after Habachi's death, there is a certain irony in the pomp and fanfare that surrounds the recovery of artifacts, while no mention is made of the desecration of the tombs and temples from which they were looted. Lauditory announcements herald their recovery, along with silence about the conditions that enabled the looting in the first place. In May 2003, the chief of the tourism and antiquities police, Major-General Kamal al-Naggar, admitted that antiquities (p.254) smuggling is still going on, but said that steps were being taken to curb the flow. “Egypt's ancient treasures are found over such a widespread area, we cannot keep track of them,” he said, stressing that “private guards” had now been appointed to replace illiterate night watchmen. “Some of these guards are young and inexperienced,” he added, “and it will be difficult for them to resist the temptation of being offered mind-boggling sums of money from antiquities dealers” (Egyptian Gazette, May 11, 2003). Al-Naggar was not exaggerating. Until today, objects stolen from archaeological sites and warehouses are smuggled out of the country. Some appear at auction houses around the world where, fortunately, a few are recognized by archaeologists browsing the Internet, and returned to Egypt.
Habachi now gave full attention to developing and finalizing the Sanctuary of Heqaib manuscript. He was delighted when Kaiser told him that Dieter Johannes, the photographer of the German Institute, would evaluate all the original photographs and take new ones if necessary, and that the statues would be described by art historian Friedrich Junge. But he became agitated when he learned that an architectural survey of the sanctuary would be carried out by Gerhardt Haeny and that his report would be included in the publication as a separate chapter. “I told Kaiser that it was far too late to begin a new study of the site and its monuments,” Habachi said. Then he paused and added, “No, let me be honest. It was my discovery and I wanted to be the sole author. I did not want anybody to infringe on my work. I had waited long enough. I was ready to make any revisions necessary and include details of the results of any studies carried out, but I wanted them to be part of my own work. The idea of having chapters on the statuary and architecture written by scholars who had not even taken part in the excavation, who were not even in Aswan at the time, was unacceptable.” Habachi's real cause for concern, which he vaguely alluded to, was that Haeny was a fierce critic of scholars who paid scant attention to the architectural aspects of a monument. Haeny considered that every single element demanded careful recording if it were to be properly understood. But such archaeological methodology was not, of course, of Habachi's time, and he must have harbored a (p.255) genuine fear that some of his conclusions might be discredited by the Swiss scholar.
“Kaiser exercised diplomacy to convince me of the advantages of including other studies in my book,” Habachi said, “but, in truth, I had no option. I did manage, however, to make him agree that the additional material would in no way detract from the importance of my work, that the extra chapters would come at the end of the publication before my own conclusions, and that the texts would be in English like the rest of the manuscript.” (p.256)