‘She was not black’: Top Egyptologist Zahi Hawass weighs in on Queen Cleopatra debate

Exclusive In an exclusive column for Arab News, top Egyptologist Zahi Hawass has weighed in on the ongoing, heated debate surrounding Netflix’s new show Queen Cleopatra. (Reuters/File Photo)
In an exclusive column for Arab News, top Egyptologist Zahi Hawass has weighed in on the ongoing, heated debate surrounding Netflix’s new show Queen Cleopatra. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 21 April 2023

‘She was not black’: Top Egyptologist Zahi Hawass weighs in on Queen Cleopatra debate

‘She was not black’: Top Egyptologist Zahi Hawass weighs in on Queen Cleopatra debate
  • Writing exclusively in Arab News, the world expert says Egyptians likely to take Jada Smith’s advice and not watch the Netflix show
  • Show labeled as docudrama, not pure drama, but ‘no-one who knows anything about ancient Egypt’ will take it seriously: Hawass

CAIRO: In an exclusive column for Arab News, top Egyptologist Zahi Hawass has weighed in on the ongoing, heated debate surrounding Netflix’s new show “Queen Cleopatra,” which is co-produced by Jada Pinkett-Smith and stars Adele James in the title role.

The casting of black actress James as the legendary ancient queen has angered Egyptians, where experts have argued she was of European and not African descent, the Daily Telegraph recently reported.

A trailer for the new historical series sparked debate in Egypt and even saw Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud Al-Semari make a request to the Attorney General to get Netflix blocked in the country in order to stop the series being broadcast.

“I really wanted to represent black women,” Pinkett-Smith said in response to the criticism. “We don’t often get to see or hear stories about black queens, and that was really important for me.”

Actress James also hit back at the show’s many critics, saying: “If you don't like the casting, don't watch the show.”

Hawass has argued that Egyptians will most likely heed her advice.




The Netflix ‘Queen Cleopatra’ series is co-produced by Jada Pinkett-Smith (L) and stars Adele James (R) in the title role. (Reuters/Supplied)

In his column, Hawass lists several pieces of “overwhelming” evidence that Cleopatra was white. He cites some of his own excavations, in which statues, coins and temple facades depicting the queen were discovered, none of which depict her as black.

In the opinion of the world-renowned archaeologist, the Netflix series has been made to “take advantage of the current contention among some in the black American community that their origins lie in ancient Egypt,” of which he sees no evidence.

Hawass added “anyone with even a little education” would not be able to take the series seriously.

“Cleopatra was many things, and well deserving of having her story told to modern audiences, but one thing she most definitely was not was black,” he said.

The full column can be read here.


50 Daesh terrorists, 168 family members repatriated from Syria to Iraq

50 Daesh terrorists, 168 family members repatriated from Syria to Iraq
Updated 04 June 2023

50 Daesh terrorists, 168 family members repatriated from Syria to Iraq

50 Daesh terrorists, 168 family members repatriated from Syria to Iraq
  • Al-Hol camp, in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria, is home to about 50,000 people including family members of suspected terrorists

BAGHDAD: Fifty Daesh terrorists and 168 Iraqi members of terrorist families were repatriated from Syria to Iraq on Saturday, an Iraqi official said.
Iraqi authorities “received 50 members of the Daesh from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The SDF are the Kurds’ de facto army in the area, and led the battle that dislodged Daesh group fighters from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.
They will “be the subject of investigations and will face Iraqi justice,” they added.
According to conflict monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights they were detained in Hasakah, northeast Syria.
Additionally, 168 relatives of Daesh-group members were repatriated from Syria’s Al-Hol camp to be relocated to Al-Jadaa camp south of Mosul, the Iraqi official added, where they will undergo psychiatric treatment.
“Once we receive the assurances of their tribal leaders that they will not face reprisals, they will be sent home.”
Al-Hol camp, in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria, is home to about 50,000 people including family members of suspected terrorists.
Among them are displaced Syrians, Iraqi refugees as well as more than 10,000 foreigners originally from some 60 countries.
In March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the swift repatriation of foreigners held in Al-Hol.
Nearly half of the camp’s population is under the age of 12 and residents are “deprived of their rights, vulnerable, and marginalized,” Guterres said in a statement during a visit to Iraq.
“I have no doubt to say that the worst camp that exists in today’s world is Al-Hol, with the worst possible conditions for people and with enormous suffering for the people that have been stranded there for years,” Guterres said.
Since May 2021, hundreds of families have been transferred from Al-Hol to Al-Jadaa in Iraq, with a number of those going on to flee.
The repatriation to Iraq of relatives of fighters who joined the ultra-radical group that controlled one-third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017 has sparked opposition.
In December 2021, Iraqi authorities announced plans to close Al-Jadaa.
But little progress has been made and the relocation of displaced people to their home regions has proven challenging and prompted opposition from local people.

 


Three Europeans released by Iran arrive home

Three Europeans released by Iran arrive home
Updated 04 June 2023

Three Europeans released by Iran arrive home

Three Europeans released by Iran arrive home
  • Vienna reacted with relief at the release of its two citizens, named as Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, who it said had been arrested “unjustly” by Iran in January 2016 and January 2019, respectively

BRUSSELS: One Dane and two Austrian-Iranian citizens released from detention by Tehran arrived in their home countries on Saturday, after the latest in a series of prisoner swaps.
The three Europeans had landed shortly before 2:45 am (0045 GMT) Saturday at Melsbroek military airport just outside Brussels.
They had flown there from Muscat, the capital of Oman which helped broker their release.
Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib welcomed them at the airport along with Danish and Austrian diplomats.
The trio’s release, as well as that of a Belgian aid worker a week earlier, were part of a prisoner swap in which Tehran got back an Iranian diplomat convicted and incarcerated in Belgium on terrorism charges.
Vienna reacted with relief at the release of its two citizens, named as Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, who it said had been arrested “unjustly” by Iran in January 2016 and January 2019, respectively.
Thanking Belgium, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said: “Our years of diplomatic efforts to secure their release have borne fruit... Today is a very emotional day for all of us.”
Ghaderi and Mossaheb arrived at Vienna airport from Belgium at around 11:30 am (0930 GMT) on Saturday, where they were welcomed by their families and Schallenberg, his spokeswoman Claudia Tuertscher told AFP.
The Danish man, identified as Thomas Kjems, landed at Copenhagen airport at around 11:00 am local time, telling reporters that he had been treated well in Iran, without being subjected to torture.
Kjems had been arrested in Iran in November 2022 on the sidelines of a demonstration for women’s rights, according to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Melsbroek is the same airport that Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele arrived at on May 26 upon being freed by Iran after 15 months in captivity.
His liberation was obtained in exchange for Belgium freeing Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who had been imprisoned for a 2018 plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally outside Paris.
Iran had levelled charges of “espionage” at Vandecasteele but his family, the Belgian government and rights groups all say that was a fabricated case used to pressure Brussels for Assadi’s release.
Belgian government officials said the release of Vandecasteele, the Dane and the two Austrian-Iranians were all part of “Operation Blackstone,” in reference to an 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, who was known for declaring: “It is better that 10 guilty escape than one innocent suffer.”
De Croo confirmed to Le Soir daily that the three Europeans released on Friday were the second part of the negotiations with Tehran on the exchange between Vandecasteele and Assadi.
The exiled Iranian opposition group the National Council of Resistance in Iran, the target of the 2018 bomb plot, has criticized Assadi’s release, saying it violated a Belgian court order requiring them to be consulted first.
Critics of the prisoner swap said it would encourage Tehran to take more Europeans hostage as bargaining chips to seek the return of agents like Assadi arrested for terror offenses in the West.
De Croo stressed his government “continues to fight for the respect of human rights and the release of European citizens unjustly detained by Iran.”

The exact number of foreign passport holders still being held by Iran is thought to be in the dozens but is not precisely known, as the families of some detainees opt to negotiate out of the public eye.
Belgian government officials said at least 22 “innocent” Europeans remained detained in Iran. France last week gave a figure of more than 30 EU citizens held.
Austria’s Schallenberg said of his two freed compatriots: “We are especially happy for the brave families who have suffered so much in recent years. Now they can finally embrace their husbands, fathers and grandfather again in freedom.”
The Gulf sultanate of Oman has emerged as a key interlocutor between the West and Iran.
In 2016 it also played a mediator role in the release of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and three other US citizens who had been held by Tehran.
In May, Iran released a Frenchman and a French-Irish citizen, both of whom had gone on hunger strike to protest their detention and conditions.

 


Israelis stage mass protest against judicial reform plan

Israelis stage mass protest against judicial reform plan
Updated 04 June 2023

Israelis stage mass protest against judicial reform plan

Israelis stage mass protest against judicial reform plan
  • On Friday, several hundred Israelis had protested outside Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea north of Tel Aviv in a demonstration police labelled as unauthorized

TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of demonstrators thronged Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities on Saturday for the 22nd consecutive week to protest against a controversial plan to reform Israel’s judicial system.
The government’s reform proposals would curtail the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians greater powers over the selection of judges.
In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced a “pause” to allow for talks on the reforms, which were moving through parliament and split the nation.
Israeli media said nearly 100,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv for Saturday’s protest. The police do not supply official figures for the number of demonstrators.
On Friday, several hundred Israelis had protested outside Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea north of Tel Aviv in a demonstration police labelled as unauthorized. There were at least 17 arrests.
“We will keep demonstrating to show them that even if they have paused in the reform plan we will stay mobilized — they will not be able to pass laws on the sly,” said 55-year-old dentist Ilit Fayn at Saturday’s Tel Aviv protest.
“It’s important for us to eliminate the possibility of Israel becoming a dictatorship,” added Arnon Oshri, a 66-year-old farmer.
Netanyahu’s government, a coalition between his Likud party and extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, argues that the proposed changes are needed to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.
But opponents of the plan believe it could open the way to a more authoritarian government.
“This corrupt government is full of outlaws who are degrading our country to the level of a third world country,” Oshri said.
“It took 2,000 years for the Jewish people to have a state, and we cannot lose it because of a bunch of fanatics.”

 


Tunisian coast guard finds drowned child’s body after migrant ships sink

Tunisian coast guard finds drowned child’s body after migrant ships sink
Updated 03 June 2023

Tunisian coast guard finds drowned child’s body after migrant ships sink

Tunisian coast guard finds drowned child’s body after migrant ships sink
  • The flow of migrants from Tunisia has intensified since President Kais Saied made a fiery speech on Feb. 21 claiming illegal immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia

SFAX, Tunisia: The Tunisian coast guard recovered the body of a young child thought to have drowned at sea when two vessels carrying migrants sank in the Mediterranean, a journalist working with AFP said.
The child’s body, dressed in a pink jumpsuit and grey woollen cap, was discovered during a patrol off the coast of Sfax, Tunisia’s second city, according to the journalist who was accompanying the coast guard.
The child was likely from Cameroon, as more than 200 Cameroonians had been rescued in the last two days, the coast guard undertaking the operation said.
The child’s mother was believed to have been one of the people missing after the sinking of two boats earlier in the week, they added.
The Cameroonian Embassy in Tunis was nonetheless unable to confirm this information when contacted by AFP.

BACKGROUND

The child’s body, dressed in a pink jumpsuit and grey woollen cap, was discovered during a patrol off the coast of Sfax, Tunisia’s second city, according to a journalist who was accompanying the coast guard.

Local court spokesman Faouzi Masmoudi meanwhile said that two boats carrying migrants from sub-Saharan Africa sank off Sfax’s coast Wednesday.
Six people died and 39 were rescued from the first boat, while 12 people from the second boat were rescued and 41 others are missing, he said.
It was unknown which of the boats the child had been traveling on, Masmoudi added.
Tunisia, whose coastline is less than 150 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa, has long been a favored launching point for migrants attempting the perilous sea journey from North Africa to Europe.
The flow of migrants from Tunisia has intensified since President Kais Saied made a fiery speech on Feb. 21 claiming illegal immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia.
The country is in the grips of a long-running socio-economic crisis, with spiralling inflation and persistently high unemployment, pushing some of its citizens to seek a better life abroad.
On May 26, authorities announced the arrest of an alleged smuggler in Sfax, wanted in connection with the September deaths of 20 Tunisian migrants who drowned off the coast of Chebba.

 


Sudan fighters take over Khartoum museum raising fears for safety of important artefacts

Sudanese patients suffering from kidney failure, undergo a dialysis  treatment at the Soba Hospital in southern Khartoum. (AFP)
Sudanese patients suffering from kidney failure, undergo a dialysis treatment at the Soba Hospital in southern Khartoum. (AFP)
Updated 03 June 2023

Sudan fighters take over Khartoum museum raising fears for safety of important artefacts

Sudanese patients suffering from kidney failure, undergo a dialysis  treatment at the Soba Hospital in southern Khartoum. (AFP)
  • Among its thousands of priceless relics are embalmed mummies dating to 2,500 BC
  • Since the overthrow of longtime ruler Omar Bashir in 2019 Sudan’s government was headed by a sovereign council under army chief General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan with the RSF head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, as his deputy

KHARTOUM: Sudanese paramilitary fighters have taken over the national museum in Khartoum, its deputy director said on Saturday, urging them to protect precious artefacts from the nation’s heritage that include ancient mummies.
Members of the Rapid Support Forces group that has been fighting the army since mid-April for control of Sudan entered the museum on Friday, said deputy director Ikhlas Abdellatif.
Museum staff do not know the situation inside the museum because they halted work there after the conflict suddenly erupted on April 15, forcing police guarding the facility to quit, Abdellatif said.
The RSF released a video filmed inside the museum grounds showing a soldier denying that they had done any harm to the museum or would do so, and inviting any individuals or organizations to visit the museum to check.
The video also showed RSF fighters covering up exposed mummies with sheets and closing the plain white boxes in which they were contained. It was not clear when or why the mummies had been uncovered.
The museum is in a large building on the banks of the River Nile in central Khartoum, near the central bank in an area where some of the fiercest fighting has taken place.
Among its thousands of priceless relics are embalmed mummies dating to 2,500 BC, making them among the oldest and archaeologically most important in the world.
The museum also contains statues, pottery and ancient murals, with artefacts from the stone age through to the Christian and Islamic eras, said former director Hatim Alnour.
Roxanne Trioux, part of a French archaeological team that was working in Sudan, said they had been monitoring satellite pictures of the museum and had already seen potential signs of damage there before Friday, with signs of burning. “We don’t know the extent of damage inside,” she said.
Fighting has persisted despite repeated truces including one negotiated by Saudi Arabia and the US to which both sides signed up. The latest was due to expire on Saturday evening. On Saturday afternoon, residents reported clashes including air and artillery strikes in southern Khartoum and northern districts of its sister cities Omdurman and Bahri which lie across the Nile, as well as the Sharg el-Nil district, to the east.
After continued clashes, bombardment and occupation of civilian buildings, Washington and Riyadh suspended the talks and the US said this week it was imposing sanctions on the two sides’ business interests.
On Friday, the UN Security Council called on the warring factions to cease hostilities to allow access to humanitarian organizations.
“The army is shelling us and the RSF are spread out in the streets, and the citizen is paying the price for war,” said Sami el-Tayeb, a 47-year-old resident of Omdurman.
The war has already displaced 1.2 million people inside the country and forced another 400,000 to flee into neighboring states, pushing Sudan to the brink of disaster and raising fears of a wider conflict.