- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

CAIRO

Officials here are scoffing at a global contest to name the new seven wonders of the world, saying it is a disgrace that the ancient Pyramids of Giza — the only surviving structures from the traditional list of architectural marvels — must compete for a spot.

Top Egyptian officials have criticized the popular contest that urges people worldwide to vote for their top sites from a list of 21 finalists that lumps the Pyramids with upstart wonders such as the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and Machu Picchu, an ancient city in the Peruvian Andes.

The Pyramids are “living in the hearts of people around the globe and don’t need a vote to be among the world wonders,” Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, was quoted by the state-run Middle East News Agency as saying.

Egyptian officials refused to meet with the organizer of the “New 7 Wonders of the World” contest, Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber, when he visited Egypt this month, said Tia B. Viering, a spokeswoman for the contest. When Mr. Weber tried to hold a press conference near the Pyramids, she said, police shut it down.

Organizers say the hostility is unwarranted because the competition is supposed to renew international interest in culture and history, not strip the Pyramids of their ancient status.

“The contest is not about taking something away; it’s about moving something into modern times,” Ms. Viering said.

The Egyptian Pyramids are the only surviving structures from the list of the seven wonders of the ancient world, derived from lists of marvels cited by ancient Greek and Roman writers.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the other structures on the traditional list are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the ancient lighthouse that stood on the island of Pharos in Alexandria, Egypt, and three long-vanished edifices.

Choosing a new roster of world wonders has attracted interest over the years: The list of the World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has 830 properties.

Mr. Weber started his project in 1999, collecting nearly 200 nominations. That list was narrowed to 21 by a panel of architecture specialists chaired by Federico Mayor, former UNESCO chief.

But Mr. Weber wanted the masses to pick the top seven. People can vote on the Internet, by phone or by sending a cell-phone text message until July 6. The seven winners will be announced July 7.

Half of the revenue raised by the campaign will go toward restoring historic sites, including the Buddha statues of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the hard-line Taliban regime.

As part of the campaign, Mr. Weber is visiting each of the 21 sites, which also include the Great Wall of China, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Stonehenge in England and the Acropolis in Athens.

Mr. Weber has been welcomed almost everywhere he has gone, except Egypt.

“We think it’s about ego, and we don’t know why the hostility is there,” Miss Viering said from Belgium last weekend.

Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni was quoted by the Middle East News Agency in Cairo as calling the contest “nonsense” and “an attempt to seek celebrity,” adding that “their efforts to meet Egyptian officials to give the contest significance won’t take place. They have to understand the archaeological and the historical stature of the Pyramids.”

Egypt’s ire may not hurt the chances of the Pyramids making it on the new list. With more than 24 million votes, Ms. Viering said, the tombs, built more than 4,000 years ago, are among the top seven.

“We know that people all around the world want the Pyramids as part of this, as do people in Egypt,” Ms. Viering added.

c AP writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report.

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