Activists decry Zahi Hawass’ use of artifacts to promote menswear line

Egyptian activists and media professionals launched a signature-gathering campaign to sue former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass for “endangering Egyptian artifacts.”

Haitham Yahia, an activist and blogger, posted a form on his Facebook and Twitter accounts for people wishing to join the campaign to sign. Yahia then plans to file a report with the attorney general against Hawass, who is currently jailed for an unrelated crime.

Yahia said Hawass allowed the illegal use of Egyptian artifacts for the promotion of a menswear fashion line that carries his name and is produced by a company named Art Zulu.

Photographer James Weber, who carried out the photoshoot, posted the pictures and an interview about them on his blog on 23 November last year. He said the crew was allowed into the King Tut exhibit in New York City on 7 October.

In an interview posted on his blog, Weber says that Hawass did not attend the photoshoot and that security from the museum was present to protect the artifacts. He said most items in the pictures were replicas, and original artifacts were used as backdrops and never touched.

The photographer also said that he understands why people would question the use of antiquities for Hawass’ personal gain, and felt glad that people can now discuss such issues openly.

“The artifacts were never in any danger of damage from heat or being touched,” Weber said, pointing out that the exhibition was temperature controlled.

Dozens of people signed Yahia’s petition in the first few hours of its posting on the internet.

The official website for Art Zulu published photos for the new line. They show a model posing with pharaonic relics in the background, which is a violation of Egyptian law. The photos show, among other things, pharaonic murals and a model seated on King Tutankhamun's chair.

Egyptian law bans touching relics, taking photos of them or using them for commercial promotions.

Hawass was this week sentenced to one year’s hard labor and a LE1000 fine for failing to fulfill a court ruling over a land dispute.

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