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Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has been acquitted of charges that he failed to obey a court order regarding the Egyptian Museum’s new gift shop.
Egyptian businessman Farid Atiya claimed that Hawass conspired to deny him a concession to operate the Egyptian Museum’s new gift shop, which opened in 2010. Traditionally, the concession to operate the museum’s gift shop is awarded after a public auction and Atiya won two consecutive auctions to operate the old gift shop. But the Supreme Council of Antiquities announced in October 2009 that the auction for the newest gift shop would be a limited auction in which only certain companies could take part. In order to participate in the auction, a company had to first present an initial letter of guarantee worth 2 million Egyptian pounds followed by a final letter of guarantee worth 10 million Egyptian pounds. Atiya alleged that these requirements, which were in excess of those required by law, were intended to prevent him from taking part.
Atiya also claimed that Hawass had already decided to lease the gift shop to Sound and Light, a state-owned company that operates a number of tourist attractions throughout Egypt. However, when Sound and Light’s representative was late to the auction, Atiya succeeded in having them disqualified, and he duly won the auction by default only to have Hawass cancel the auction on the grounds that there had been only one participant.
Another auction was duly announced, but when the appointed day arrived, Atiya was told that it had been delayed. Fearing that Hawass intended to ask Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to award the concession by appointment rather than auction, Atiya wrote to Nazif and explained his side of the story. Nazif accordingly refused Hawass’ request to give the concession directly to Sound and Light.
Yet another auction was scheduled for May 2010, but Atiya was not invited to participate. He then went to the State Council court and asked it to invalidate the auction, which it did on June 15. However, the Supreme Council of Antiquities appealed against the decision and claimed that a contract had already been signed. However, since the contract had been signed four days before the final letter of guarantee was issued, it was held to be invalid. But Hawass pressed on with his plans for the shop and it opened in December 2010 under the control of Sound and Light.
Atiya, who still operated the old museum gift shop, then received a letter from Hawass ordering him to close it down because of the opening of the new shop. Atiya appealed against the order, claiming that the new gift shop should never have opened in the first place. In January 2011, Prime Minister Nazif wrote to Hawass and asked him to abide by the court order. Hawass refused, citing the financial losses that would be suffered by Sound and Light and the American University in Cairo Press (who operated the gift shop on behalf of Sound and Light). Hawass offered Atiya a tiny amount of space in the new gift shop, but he refused the offer.
The museum gift shop was looted during the Egyptian Revolution, but when it reopened on February 20, it was still under the control of Sound and Light. Atiya then brought charges against Hawass under Article 123 of the Criminal Law of Egypt, which says that if a government official fails to implement a court’s verdict, they are liable to imprisonment and a fine. In April, a court found Hawass guilty and sentenced him to one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds.
However, earlier this month the Criminal Court of Agouza overturned the previous verdict and found Hawass innocent of the charges against him. According Al-Ahram Online, the Ministry of State for Antiquities has said that another auction will be held in which all organizations will be able to participate.