What do Voltaire, Mozart, Bonaparte, Freud, Hergé, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson have in common? 

To find out the answer, read Florence Quentin’s Livre de Egyptes, released on 29 January 2015, which explores the everlasting Western fascination for Egypt.

Extras on the set of Mankiewicz 's Cleopatra,1963

Extras on the set of Mankiewicz ‘s Cleopatra,1963

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On the 7th of October 2009, the French Culture minister  announced the Musée du Louvre would return to the Egyptian authorities five  fresco fragments   supposedly stolen from a tomb in the Kings’ Valley (Louxor). Why did it break the news?

Egyptian officials and the returned hair of Ramses IIThe issue is not really new. Since the early 2000’s, the problem of cultural property have gained visibility and  became a  source of diplomatic and political conflict. Two opposite positions are confronting. On one hand, institutions in archaeological-source countries claim for the right to be returned, rapatriated or restituted “their” “looted” artifacts as part of the national heritage. On the other hand, 18 museums from antiquities-importing countries have signed the Declaration of the importance and Value of Universal Museums (2002) stating the artifacts in their collections do not belong to a  nation in particular but to the entire Humanity. As both arguments can be considered as valid, it results  in a deadlock situation such as in the case of the Parthenon/Elgin Marble whose property is claimed at the same time by Greek authorities and the British Museum.

The new thing about this recent return is that the Louvre is one of the museums that signed the 2002 Declaration. For the first time, one of those museums agrees in such a short time (less than two weeks) to return the claimed pieces… without negociating any condition. How was it possible?

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Here is a polemic research article I wrote in 2007 about Dr. Zahi Hawass published in Enrique Klaus et Shaymaa Hassabo (ed.) Chroniques Égyptiennes 2006, Cairo, CEDEJ, 2007. new! (september 2009) download the article here or buy the book here

Et Zahi créa l’Égypte: Quand glamour et patrimoine défraient la chronique

Cet article analyse le discours et les polémiques publiés dans la presse égyptienne autour de la personnalité de Zâhî Hawwâs, le secrétaire général du Conseil suprême des antiquités (CSA) en 2006. L’homme a bâti son pouvoir sur le patrimoine égyptien, utilisant sa position institutionnelle ainsi que l’image de prestige qu’il a projetée dans les médias étrangers.

L’article rend compte de son emprise sur le patrimoine égyptien qui englobe les champs culturel, économique et politique. Néanmoins, sa présence dans la liste des 100 personnalités les plus influentes dans le monde dressée par « Time Magazine » ainsi que sa reconduction à la tête du CSA n’ont pas empêché les critiques en Égypte concernant sa stratégie de communication, orientée vers les médias.

Cet article décrit ainsi un jeu de miroir reflétant les ambiguïtés de la politique locale et le prestige international de Égypte en termes de patrimoine, d’identité, de pouvoir, de connaissance, de sciences mais aussi de business. En tant que personnification de l’archéologie égyptienne, Zahi Hawass incarne toutes ces ambiguïtés.


“And Zahi created Egypt”, When Glamour and Heritage Break the News

Abstract

The aim of this article is to analyse the discourse and the polemics in the Egyptian newspapers that surrounded Zahi Hawass, the Supreme Council of Antiquities General Secretary in 2006. By his institutional position and by the prestigious image of himself  he projected in the international media, he built up his power over the Egyptian heritage.

The article gives an account of his seizure over that heritage, which encompasses realms of culture, economics and politics. Yet, his nomination in Time Magazine’s list of the top 100 most influential personalities worldwide and his reappointment at the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities did not prevent national criticism towards his media-oriented policies.

This article describes a game of mirrors reflecting the ambiguities of local politics and international prestige of Egypt in terms of heritage and identity, power and knowledge, science and business. As the personification of Egyptian archaeology, Zahi Hawass epitomises all those ambiguities…