Egyptologist risks life, career to expose looting
ABU SIR AL MALAQ, Egypt — Monica Hanna's reputation as an archaeologist has grown far beyond her native Egypt — but not without risk.
As she and several journalists documented looting at an ancient burial site here, several men – one with a shotgun slung over a shoulder — threatened her.
“I heard one man say, ‘Beat her and take her camera,' ” Hanna said afterward.
When the men phoned for police, she hid her camera's memory card in her shirt. After 45 minutes of argument, she was allowed to leave.
“The locals, who are a part of the looting, don't want the photos out there because then their business stops,” she explained.
Hanna, 30, is a leader in exposing the antiquity-looting that has exploded since Egypt's 2011 revolution. She appears on Egyptian television debating government officials, takes reporters to looted sites, and encourages Egyptians to protect their heritage.
To Nigel Hetherington, an archaeologist and co-founder of Past Preservers, which connects academia and media on archaeological issues, she is “amazing … a revolutionary in the true sense of the word.”
“She is out to get the bad guys and harness the feeling the Egyptians have of their own heritage, and turn it into actual force for good,” he said.
When she was 14, Hanna took a school trip to the Egyptian Museum, which holds some of the country's best antiquities, including the King Tut collection.
“I sneaked inside the mummification lab” and saw its director at work, she recalled. “I was fascinated, and I asked him if I could come and help.”
She volunteered twice weekly after school; a year later, she helped with mummy restorations. “I helped repair the toes of Thutmose III,” a pharaoh who ruled Egypt nearly 3,500 years ago.
She graduated from American University in Cairo with a bachelor's degree in Egyptology and archaeological chemistry, then earned a master's degree in teaching English, followed by a doctoral degree in archaeological sciences from the University of Pisa, Italy. She is doing post-doctoral studies at Humbolt University, Berlin.
Not everyone appreciates her work; she often receives threatening phone calls: “People say that I am foreign-paid, that I have a foreign agenda, or that I am doing this for personal glory.”
A policeman told her uncle that she should stop because “she is bothering really big people.”
Salima Ikram, Hanna's former teacher and head of American University's Egyptology unit, is not surprised by the threats: “That means she is doing her job well. She is scaring some of the syndicate people who live around and feed off of the antiquities.”
Hanna concedes she may be risking her career: “I might not get future permits to work on archaeological sites from the antiquities ministry. But, then, it's ethics versus career — if I cannot talk about this, then I really have no place to teach my students one day that we have done our best to protect our heritage.”
She is working with three groups to monitor archaeological sites; a website will allow people, including tourists, to anonymously report damaged antiquities.
Her commitment arose, she said, because foreign archaeologists were afraid of losing work permits if they spoke up and antiquities inspectors who reported looting were usually ignored.
“If we Egyptians don't protect our heritage, who will?” she asks.
Hetherington said Hanna “brings a model of archaeological heritage-management that is severely lacking here … (she) can empower the younger generation to take control of this mess.”
Her work “is a service not just to Egypt … because Egypt's heritage is part of the world heritage,” adds Ikram, her former teacher.
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Submarine hunt sends Cold War chill across Baltic
- Iran acts to comply with interim nuclear deal with world powers, IAEA says
- Abbas seems desperate in round of belligerent rhetoric
- Deepening U.S. commitment to Kobani ties Obama’s Islamic State effort to Kurds’ fate
- Spate of attacks kills dozens in Iraq, appears to target Shiites
- Loophole rewards expelled Nazi suspects with Social Security benefits
- WHO: Nigeria’s Ebola outbreak is officially over
- Kurds, U.S. warplanes run ISIS out of Syrian border town of Kobani
- Secretary of State Kerry’s airplane grounded a 4th time
- Russia, Ukraine leaders signal progress in talks on peace, gas
- Kurdish militia regains ground in Kobani