In an otherwise slow news week in Egypt, the country's
leading announcer of archaeological finds, Zahi Hawass, has once again single-handedly
kept his country on the news agenda, by claiming a new world record for the largest
ever outdoor lecture. What makes the achievement even more remarkable is that the
antiquities chief gave the 50 minute address 'The incredible achievements of Zahi Hawass'
in an entirely impromptu manner.
One of Hawass's minions told us how the event had unfolded
: "Zahi had been at the antiquities museum, posing for photos and signing
autographs for tourists as he does
every Friday afternoon. When he came out into Midan Tahrir to meet his driver, he was
met by a huge crowd of an estimated twenty thousand people. Without even having to
ask, he realised the people of Cairo, with whom he has a special bond, had gathered
spontaneously to hear him speak. Many among the crowd had gone entire days without
hearing news of his exploits, as was clear from their agitated state. So Zahi climbed
to a convenient balcony and gave a talk right there, without so much as a single note
or slide. It was very impressive - at one point the crowd was shouting as one:
'join us, join us, join us' over and over again,
in reference to Zahi's online fan club. It was really quite humbling. In fact,
I personally tried to explained to Zahi what humility feels like, and he told me he
was sorry not to be able to experience it."
Towards the end of the speech, in a typical display of
grandstanding showmanship, Hawass switched from anecdotal accounts of his many
discoveries to an impassioned plea for the return of the Rosetta stone from the
British government. His minion told us: "The local police must have known that these
levels of charisma, together with the Egyptian people's unbounded love for Zahi, were
potentially dangerous, and they began to gather around him to protect him."
The crowd's exuberant Hawassomania was apparently not
to be denied, though. They began to throw objects towards his balcony for him to
sign. Hawass managed to sign around a dozen rocks, four bottles of petrol and
three tires before an unfortunate accident cut the event short. A bottle of petrol
had somehow been set alight before being thrown towards Hawass, and caused moderate
singeing to one of Hawass's favourite denim shirts before it could be extinguished,
signed and returned to the crowd.
Just before we went to press, it was announced through
Hawass's website that the damaged shirt would be mummified and buried with full honours
after lying in state for 70 days.
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