The name Zahi Hawass may not ring a bell, but you’ve probably seen him.
He is the charismatic former head of antiquities in Egypt who has seemingly been in every documentary about pyramids and tombs and pharaohs.
Hawass is in Kansas City for the first time this week to give a lecture Wednesday and to promote a new book as well as the King Tut exhibit at Union Station. The lecture sold out in six days, but Hawass will be available to meet timed-ticketed visitors to the Tut exhibit from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
In a telephone interview with The Star, Hawass discussed the exhibit of Tut replicas, the political situation in Egypt and the possibility of getting his old job back.
The Union Station exhibit “The Discovery of King Tut” comprises more than 1,000 exact re-creations of the items found inside the boy king’s tomb when it was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter.
Some have dismissed the idea of seeing “fake” artifacts, but executive producer Christoph Scholz says visitors could never see the fragile originals displayed as these are.
Hawass agrees with the concept of “replica tourism.” He applauds an exact reproduction of King Tut’s tomb that recently opened in Egypt.
“The Valley of the Kings is in danger because of mass tourism,” Hawass said. “If we leave these beautiful tombs open, they will be finished in 100 years. I hope in the future we can make a replica of Seti I’s tomb and Neferati’s tomb.”
Hawass said he saw the current Union Station exhibit when it was in Zurich and called it “fantastic.”
“In my opinion, it is the best educational exhibit for children,” he said. “You cannot do educational with the original. You can do it with the replica. The objects that are being shown in Kansas City will never leave Egypt (again). How many people in Kansas City will go to Cairo? Very few.”
Hawass lost his job with the Egyptian government after Hosni Mubarak was toppled as president in 2011. In the turmoil since then, tourism to Egypt has plummeted, but Hawass insists the country is safe.
“I was in Egypt two months ago with 90 Americans and they had the best time of their life,” Hawass said. “Go. It is safe.”
But Hawass said Egyptian antiquities have not been safe. During the instability, security at ancient sites has been derelict and storage facilities for antiquities have been looted.
“People do illegal excavations everywhere,” Hawass said. “Since 2011, we lost at least 30 percent of antiquities.”
Hawass is optimistic that things will improve under newly elected president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a former military chief who emerged after the Egyptian army ousted the previous government of Mohamed Morsi, who was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The army had to remove the president,” Hawass said. “People say it’s a coup. Maybe it’s a coup, but it’s a good coup for Egypt.”
Hawass likens el-Sissi to Mentuhotep II, a military officer who reunited Upper and Lower Egypt more than 4,000 years ago.
“Egypt always needs a strongman after a revolution, even in pharaonic times,” he said.
Hawass is currently a scholar in residence at Sierra Nevada College in Nevada, and he gives lectures across the United States. In mid-August he will return to Egypt. Hawass was asked if he would like to return to his old job as antiquities minister under the new government.
“If they ask me to go back, I think I will.”