This past week the President of Egypt signed a decree naming me the Deputy Minister of Culture. I was very honoured by his decision, as it shows his continuing support of my work to preserve the monuments of Egypt.
There is a rule in Egypt that when a government official reaches a certain age, they retire. Therefore I was planning to retire next May. There are many good people at the Supreme Council of Antiquities who have experience and whom I hope could do a good job protecting Egypt’s history. However, I was concerned that the government would decide to appoint someone from the University to fill my position, who did not have experience in archaeology. Such a person might be impressed by the glory of the job and not focus on the monuments, and all the projects I have initiated would be abandoned.
Although this worried me, I was planning my life after the SCA. I was planning to have a new office with all of my books, where I could continue writing. I would continue to give lectures and travel all over the world, and also continue my excavations at Saqqara and the Valley of the Kings. But then President Mubarak called me on the phone to ask me when I am really retiring. He said he would appoint me as Deputy Minister of Culture, which would mean that I would not have to retire next year, as Ministers and Deputy Ministers in Egypt have no set age for retirement.
This would give me the opportunity to continue my work, especially the new museums I am building. I would have more time to finish the Akhenaten Museum, the Civilization Museum, the Sohag Museum, the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, and many other museums I want the world to see. I would also have the opportunity to finish the site management plan I began, to preserve pharaonic sites, Jewish synagogues, Coptic churches, and Islamic mosques. However, the most important thing I wish to continue is the training programs I have initiated. I am training the museum personnel, to teach them how to run the new museums. I also want to continue a training program for archaeologists, to teach them about site management, what it means and how they can use it to preserve the sites.
My dream for the coming years is to continue working and especially teaching young people in the SCA how to make good decisions and be assertive, to fill my position. I hope future heads of antiquities can come from within the SCA, where these young people have experience in archaeology and site management, rather than from the University, where they would not gain this valuable experience. This is why I feel that my decision to stay will help me to finish my work and fulfil my dreams.
When President Mubarak made this decision and it was published in the newspaper, the reaction was wonderful; I have never seen before in my life anything like it. All the people of Cairo, rich and poor, the taxi drivers and doormen and everyone was so happy. This response made me very happy, to see that the people appreciate what I do, and they see me as a guardian of the monuments. I saw how happy people were when I got the Louvre to return the tomb paintings of Tetiky, and when I asked for the return of the Nefertiti bust from Berlin. I hope these people continue to support my work to preserve Egypt’s history.
I would also like to say how grateful I am to President Mubarak. He is a unique man, who has given a lot to his country. He has been in public service for years and I have not once seen him make a decision just for himself. Everything he does, he does for Egypt. His wife, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, I feel deserves a Nobel Prize for the work she has done for peace. All her activities are working for peace, she has initiated programs to assist children, help women gain their freedom, and build museums to educate people. When President and Mrs. Mubarak called me to tell me I could be a Deputy Minister, to give me the opportunity to continue serving my country, I was very honoured. I hope that I can continue to do good works, and that the world will see many important improvements in the years to come.