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Thursday, October 27, 2016

A man we loved and lost - Al-Ahram Weekly

Signpost up ahead: Pretty much unfiltered Zahi. Be warned. Glenn

A man we loved and lost

Zahi Hawass remembers the late Egyptian writer Anis Mansour and his sometimes unsung expertise in Egyptology

I have lost many great friends, many of whom were admired by all Egyptians. Egypt has many great thinkers, philosophers, film stars and writers. These extraordinary people have made significant contributions to humanity and left a mark on our lives. Among these great people are the late writer Anis Mansour, the famous actor Nour Al-Sherif, my best friend Ahmed Ragab and film star Omar Sharif.

I was very lucky to be a good friend of Anis. We used to meet regularly because he was interested in Egyptology as well as in literature and philosophy. I can say that his knowledge of these subjects was equal to that of Nobel Prize winner.

Mansour began his career as a friend of the late Kamal Al-Mallakh, who was an architect and Egyptologist working at Giza and who also wrote articles for newspapers and magazines. With Al-Mallakh, Mansour witnessed the discovery of the solar boat of the pharaoh Khufu at Giza. I loved to listen to the stories about the discovery from Mansour, as he used an exciting style that made me listen to him with attention and great passion. My favourite stories were of the tricks he and his friend Al-Mallakh used to play on each other.

I was introduced to Mansour through a book he wrote called “The Curse of the Pharaohs,” and it is interesting in that he not only collected stories about these curses, but also told stories that he had heard from great Egyptologists such as the English Egyptologist Walter Emery who searched for the tomb of Imhotep at Saqqara and Selim Hassan who provided Mansour with information about the solar boats. Al-Mallakh, who discovered the boat in 1954, later went to the US to lecture about the discovery.

I should also note that I lost my job in 1998 for a year because of Mansour, although he did not directly cause this. In 1992, I attended a party given by the well-known Egyptian publisher Ibrahim Al-Moallem. I was sitting beside Mansour, and I reminded him that we had first met at his house in Harania with Al-Mallakh and the famous writer Tawfik Al-Hakim, who had also been his guest in Harania. People at the party were taping the discussion with a video camera, and we would record something and then watch it on the TV screen. Al-Hakim did not believe it was recording, and he would wiggle his moustache to make sure he was on the screen.

Anis Mansour did not comment on what I was saying and instead asked me if I had made any new discoveries. I began to tell him about the great discoveries of the tombs of the Pyramid builders and how these had shown that the ancient Egyptians had built the Pyramids, not slaves of people from Atlantis as some people were claiming at the time. I wanted to explain that these discoveries were important because they proved that the Pyramids were Egypt’s national project at the time and that every family from Upper and Lower Egypt had sent workmen, food and supplies to help with the building of the king’s Pyramid. I also told him about the beautiful statues of the artisan Inty-shedu.

As Mansour believed in the curse of the pharaohs I told him that when I had found these statues and we had decided to announce the discovery to the public an earthquake had taken place and damaged many tombs. As a result, we postponed the announcement. We set another date for the announcement, but when I was going to meet the press I suffered from a small heart attack and had to stay in hospital for two weeks. Mansour said that “this is the curse of Inty-shedu.” At the end of our meeting, I asked Mansour not to write about the discovery because Farouk Hosni, minister of culture at the time, wanted to tell the president first and to hold a press conference to announce it to the public. Mansour agreed not to say anything.

Later, articles appeared in the newspapers saying that I was giving a lecture at the Diplomatic Club in Cairo to foreign ambassadors and members of the foreign community in Egypt. Mansour thought that we had announced the discovery. At that time, tourism was decreasing because of a terrorist attack, and he thought that the discovery of the tombs of the Pyramid builders would interest the media. He began to write articles in Al-Ahram and even began to ask the president to visit the discovery, knowing that his presence would attract attention to it. He wrote more than six columns that were among the best ever written about Egyptology.

However, the head of the antiquities department at that time was a weak person and had no knowledge of Egyptology. He was jealous of others in the department and especially of me. He was angry because Mansour had announced the discovery and had written about my role in it. Former president Hosni Mubarak then decided to visit the Pyramids. He asked to see the statues we had found. It was 7 January, the day of Coptic Christmas, and the lady who was the keeper of the storeroom that contained the statues was on holiday. She was summoned, and the statues were brought to the area next to the Sphinx on the Giza Plateau.

I explained the statues to the president, and they were then moved back into storage. After the visit was over, it was discovered that some of the small statues had been stolen. We did not know how. But the head of the antiquities department made this an excuse to move me from my job in Giza as a result of jealousy. I did not accept this, and I resigned. The only person who supported me at this difficult time was Anis Mansour, and after it was over I decided to move to Los Angeles in the US to teach at UCLA for the rest of the year.

A few months later, the statues were recovered, and I was able to return from Los Angeles and to take up my former responsibilities.

One Friday, I met Mansour and we walked and talked for an hour. Sitting on the banks of the Nile he gave me much valuable advice. He used to read what was written about Egypt in the foreign press every day, and we in Egypt owe him our gratitude for informing us about what was going on in the world through his writing and what was being published around the world about the ancient Egyptians. I would like to ask the pharaoh and God to give him their blessings. We will always remember him as a great man.

--   Sent from my monopoly-free Linux system.

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