Until the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, London’s Saatchi Gallery had been hosting the hit exhibition Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh, featuring artifacts on loan from the Egyptian government.
When award-winning Egyptian investigative journalist Gehad Abbas found that the Egyptian government might have breached laws to protect the priceless and ancient treasures, she investigated it in collaboration with BBC Arabic. Behind the Mask: Tutankhamun’s Last Tour was broadcast with English subtitles on 7 July 2020.
Abbas’s investigation found that an Egyptian archaeologist and former minister responsible for overseeing the country’s antiquities, Dr Zahi Hawas, ran the private events company lending the artifacts to the Saatchi Gallery. This was an unlawful agreement as, according to Egyptian law, historic artifacts may not be lent to private companies. It also represented a conflict of interest.
After the documentary aired, the entire exhibition was sent home to Egypt.
According to the report, the London exhibition was visited by approximately 580 000 people before the COVID-19 crisis, generating £18 million GBP — some R348 million — in ticket sales. Abbas said it was believed to be Britain’s most expensive exhibition ever.
Abbas spent a year searching for and tracking all the leads to find the documents that would support her story. While finding supporting documentation was difficult enough, the filming of the documentary was a tough journey too, with the team joking that King Tut’s curse was upon them. While shooting in London, the coronavirus struck, and when they returned to Cairo to resume filming, they were not only confronted with a sandstorm and ever increasing COVID-19 cases, but also had a tough time getting permits to shoot at historical sites such as the pyramids and the Egyptian museum in Cairo.
Behind the mask: Tutankhamun’s Last Tour was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s runner-up prize in 2020.
Abbas has worked as an investigative journalist for 10 years. Her previous accolades include a 2018 Arab Journalism Award and a 2019 Egyptian Press Award.
Featured image: A gold inlaid canopic coffinette of Tutankhamum that was displayed at ‘Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh’ at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Image: thenationalnews.com.