Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Arab Spring

Protecting Pharaoh’s Treasures – My Life in Egyptology


This book by the noted Egyptologist Dr. Wafaa El-Saddik, Protecting Pharaoh’s Treasures, published by The American University in Cairo Press, is about her life in Egyptology, pursuing one’s dream, overcoming corruption, sexism, and so much more. Here is the fascinating story of one who became the first woman Director General of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It is remarkable for any woman to head a major world class museum, but even more so in a Muslim country. The book also provides answers to some of the questions about the Arab Spring of 2011 and its lingering effects on Egypt’s economy through its major tourist attractions, the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum.

Wafaa takes us on a journey back to her childhood, growing up in the 1950s, in a small village in the Nile Delta. We are given a real picture of what life was like in the early 1950’s, but greatly changed for many with the Suez Canal crisis, when Israel invaded Egypt and attempted to remove President Gamal Abdel Nasser from power. We are given an understanding of the profound effect this had on the Egyptian people.

Insight into the British influence in Egypt and the many foreign Egyptologists who have staked their claims to Egypt’s buried treasures gives the reader a better understanding of attitudes reflected today.

We learn of Wafaa’s Muslim faith, a very personal one, which is about helping those less fortunate, standing up and doing what is right, and not being swayed by the corrupt actions of others. She credits her mother’s guiding words to her: “the only path is the straight path.” We see her faith put into practice in the programs she started for the blind and disabled, and in the Children’s Museum she envisioned and created in the basement of the museum.

Talking freely about her choice of not wearing a head scarf, Wafaa believes that social pressure to do so is an encroachment on her freedom and faith. To be the only woman in the Egyptian Museum who did not wear a head scarf says something about thinking for oneself while still holding to one’s principles and faith.

Originally studying to be a journalist, Wafaa switched to archeology after a field trip to Luxor and Aswan rekindled her interest in ancient Egypt which she had since a child. In pursuing a Master’s degree, she had her first trip out of Egypt in 1973, assisting a British mission in a dig in Benghazi, Libya, learning excavation techniques and gaining practical scientific knowledge. Her career in Egypt began soon after, when she was offered a position as an inspector in the Antiquities Department. From the bottom rung, she worked her way up and was tapped at a young age to be host to many dignitaries, royalty, and heads of state who traveled to Egypt wanting to learn about its ancient and glorious history. No doubt, her ability to speak several languages and her reputation as a gracious and knowledgeable host had something to do with it! She eventually continued her studies in Vienna, obtaining a doctorate in Egyptology from the University of Vienna in 1983.

There are wonderful stories of her years at the Egyptian Museum, including seven years as its Director General. She faced many challenges, from managing more than 300 in staff, to dealing with the publicity hound Zahi Hawass and many government bureaucrats including Mubarek, to the difficulties in orchestrating the traveling shows of Tutankhamen’s treasures in cities around the world. In addition to her work, Wafaa has achieved a happy marriage and raised two successful sons.

Anyone with an interest in people, archeology, and Egyptian history (both ancient and modern), will find this a book they cannot put down and gives one hope for Egypt’s future. It includes many excellent photos from the life of a remarkable woman, a role model for women everywhere. The book, originally written in German with Rudiger Heimlich, was translated by Russell Stockman.

Protecting Pharaoh’s Treasures
Dr. Wafaa El-Saddik

Top photo of the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt from Bigstock

Bassem Youssef – The Jon Stewart of Egypt


Every mother’s dream is that her son will become a doctor.  Her worst nightmare is that he will become a comedian. Egyptian-born Bassem Youssef has been both. In 2011, Bassem left his job as a cardiac surgeon and embarked on a comedy career. Tickling Giants is his story.  It’s also the story of Egypt’s tentative steps towards Democracy during the period known as the “Arab Spring.”

Called the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Bassem was initially moved to action after helping wounded protestors in Tahir Square during Mubarik’s ouster in 2011. His first attempts at humor were on YouTube.  These were an instant hit and Bassem was quickly picked up on

Egyptian network TV. His show, called, The Show [Al-Bernameg In Arabic], was a satirical look at politics, religion, and the government. And nothing was off limits – Islam and its clerics, sex, the president. Sight gags, animation, and video goofs added to the mix.


Bassem interviewing people at  Mohamed Mahmoud Street in November 2011.

It was a winning combination for Bassem. His Egyptian audiences loved it, and even his mentor, Stewart, was moved to let him visit his New York set. There, Bassem’s story and his passion caught the eye of The Daily Show’s long-time producer, Sara Taksler, who committed to making a feature length documentary about him. A year later, Taksler found herself in Cairo. But shooting on location in Eqypt was fraught with difficulties. Because of budget constraints, Taksler had to become a one-man band, shooting much of the action herself, in the midst of dangerous times and risky places; sometimes from a moving car and other times from the protection of the production offices. As Taksler said, “This is a group of people who do the same sorts of things I do as a Senior Producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but with much higher stakes.”

Yet she also managed to capture Bassem and his staff’s humor, dedication, and sense of fun throughout it all.  And she said, she found their two offices remarkably similar – the main difference being that one had lots of Ahmed’s, the other lots of Adam’s.

The show itself spanned four seasons and three rulers – Mubarik, Morsi, and Sisi, whom Bassem called, “Mubarek 2.0,” and who won his “free election” with 96.9 percent of the vote. The other 3.1 percent went to “Hummus” or so the show said. But it often put him at odds with the government. Under Morsi’s rule, he was cited for “Contempt of Islam” and “Insulting the President,” and questioned for six hours. Ultimately, the court dismissed the case amidst cheers from the public. As one onlooker said, “He’s a doctor who heals us from the political state we’re facing.”


Bassem presents Jon Stewart with a gift from Egypt.

In its hay-day, the show commanded 30 million viewers, nearly 40 percent of the population. By comparison, Stewart’s show reached two million. But Egypt is not the United States, and freedom of expression is not guaranteed.

When Sisi came to power in 2014, the tides began to turn. Protestors appeared outside the studio, there were thinly and not-so-thinly veiled threats to Bassem, his crew, and his family. Two networks, and one blackout/jammed signal later, Bassem was off the air and being sued for breach of contract for 100,000,000 pounds. It was an amount he could not pay, so he fled the country.

Today, Bassem lives in California with his wife and daughter, but he is keeping his political humor alive. His show, Democracy Handbook, a series of 10 digital episodes, airs on Fusion.  And he recently published a book called, Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring, which is taking him around the States on the lecture circuit.

It’s a long way from Cairo, and it often makes Bassem wonder whether his little girl will ever see Egypt. But ultimately, he remains undeterred as he reflects back on his show there. “It was a short glimpse in time, where people can look back and say, it’s possible.”

Top photo: Bassem visits The Daily Show in June 2012.

Photos courtesy of Sarcasm’s Productions