And where were they? Where did you find them?
Those were taken by the looters who entered the museum on the night of January 28. We got the objects of King Tut because there was someone working for the antiquities department who came to me and said that there were looters who wanted to return these objects to me. And the next day he brought a bag with four objects.
Over the years you have carried out a campaign to force interna-tional museums to return Egyptian artifacts. In the wake of the revolution and looting, some in the West made the argument that items were safer spread around the globe. The Natural History Museum of Basel became the first to return an artifact since the January revolution. Do you see that as significant?
Very important. It’s a relief from the Old Kingdom, about 4,000 years ago.
You had a role in the former government and are now part of the current government. What is different now, in the day-to-day work of your ministry and the way the country is run?
You know, I am a technician. I am not a politician. I have never been in any party, and I did my job beautifully.
You did have a fairly close working relationship with the former first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. Was she an important political patron for the antiquities department?
No, she had nothing to do with any work in antiquities. I collaborated with her to create the children’s museum in Cairo. We will be finishing the work on this museum two months from now, and it will be the best museum for children in the Middle East.
As we speak now in May, have you been in touch with the former first lady since her husband relinquished power?
I told you, I’m a technician, not a politician. My relationship with the first lady was just working in this museum. It wasn’t really close. Many people think I am from the old regime—my enemies say this. But I’m not. I’ve never been a politician my whole life.
But still, you must have a personal sensitivity to seeing her get arrested.
This is something that governments do, and I can’t interfere. Every Egyptian—85 million—can be connected with the old regime. But when you have a new regime that you like, you connect with it.
Has the unrest interfered with archaeological activity in Egypt?
Things are coming back now. Most of the foreign expeditions have applied to work in September and October. Everyone wants to come back and work.
How is the ongoing quest for Cleopatra’s tomb proceeding?
You know, we really did not excavate [in recent months] because of the revolution. But I will continue in September to work in the Valley of the Kings and also continue the excavation to search for the tomb of Cleopatra.
What have you found so far?
We have found statues of Cleopatra and coins of Cleopatra, statues of [Ptolemaic] kings—and all of these discoveries are very important.
Tell me about the Valley of the Kings. What are you looking for there?
I’m looking for the tomb of Ankhesenamun, the wife of King Tut. I don’t have evidence for it, but I’m hoping that in the next season something might happen.
Now, you mentioned before your critics and enemies. Tell me about them.
I found out [before the revolution] that some people had a very bad reputation in the antiquities department and had been accused in the past of stealing antiquities and things like that. And I really did punish them. When the revolution happened, they could say anything about me. And they started attacking me. And I really did not care and didn’t answer them back. But if you look at these cases, it shows that they are jealous people, and they tried to stop me, but they did not.
You are at the moment appealing a one-year jail sentence for failing to halt bidding by companies interested in running a new gift shop in the museum. Can you tell me about that?
Any government official who tries to protect anything from a civilian, the civilian can take you to court. When the court makes a decision, it’s not against you personally, it’s against your position. But because my name is big, they made it big.
The case concerns the bookshop in the museum?
This man, who had this old bookshop, did not pay us before. I’m not going to say anything about him. But I made a beautiful new shop, and this man didn’t like that.
Some critics say that your governing style is imperious and that you’re overly ambitious. They point to a clothing line you started at one point. Can you respond to that?
People don’t understand the clothing line. First of all, the photo shoot [for the clothing] did not happen at the Cairo museum, as people say. And second, all the money that comes to me goes to a hospital for children with cancer. I’m very proud that the clothing line became famous and is helping children.
What do you say to the people who claim that you’re too authoritarian?
If you need to control the antiquities of Egypt, you have to be very strong on the job. If you are not strong, you will never do that. Our antiquities were robbed by everyone before [I came to office]. The antiquities directors were not that strong before. When I do this, I do it for the sake of the antiquities.
Tourism is vital to the Egyptian economy, but at the moment only the most intrepid visitors are touring the Nile. What can be done?
I’m going to use discoveries and the opening of museums to bring tourists back, and at the same time the government will do more to improve the security of the sites. Then people can come back and enjoy the magic and mystery of Egypt.
This article was printed in the August issue with the title, "Guardian of the Pharoahs."