Top Egyptian officials have lashed out at the popular contest that urges people around the world to vote for their top sites from a list of 21 finalists including the pyramids, Statue of Liberty, Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower and Peru's Machu Picchu. The head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, recently said the "New 7 Wonders of the World" campaign had "no scientific or official stature." The pyramids are "living in the hearts of people around the globe, and don't need a vote to be among the world wonders," Hawass said, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency, or MENA. But contest organizers say the backlash in Egypt is unwarranted, claiming the competition's intentions are to renew international interest in culture and history, not strip the pyramids from their ancient status. "The controversy in Egypt has shocked us," said contest spokeswoman Tia B. Viering. "The contest is not about taking something away, it's about moving something into modern times." The Egyptian pyramids are the only surviving structures from the original list of seven wonders of the ancient world, that also included such places as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. Choosing new world wonders has attracted ongoing interest over the years, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, list of World Heritage Sites includes 830 selections. Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber started the "New 7 Wonders of the World" in 1999, collecting nearly 200 nominations from all over the world to compete. That list was first whittled down to 77, before it was narrowed down to 21 by a panel of architectural experts, chaired by former UNESCO chief Federico Mayor. But Weber wanted the masses to pick the top seven, and opened the voting for the final round to the public. 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 in Lisbon, Portugal, and half of the revenues raised by the campaign will go toward restoration efforts including the Bamiyan Buddha statue in Afghanistan , which was destroyed by the Taliban regime. As part of the campaign, Weber is visiting each of the 21 sites, which also include the Great Wall of China, the Sydney Opera House, Stonehendge and the Acropolis in Athens. Weber visited Egypt earlier this month for three days, but instead of receiving a warm welcome as he had during other stops on his world tour, he got the cold shoulder from Egyptian officials, who would not meet with him, Viering said. Weber tried to hold a press conference at a hotel near the pyramids, which are located on the outskirts of Cairo, but police shut it down, saying it was not authorized, she said.
"They have not allowed us any kind of dialogue," Viering said in a telephone interview from Belgium this weekend. "We think it's about ego, and we don't know why the hostility is there." Egyptian officials also have made statements discounting the contest to local media over the past month. Egypt's Culture Minister Farouk Hosni called the competition "nonsense," saying it was "meaningless to vote on the pyramids" because they are the most important and most ancient wonder. The contest is "an attempt to seek celebrity and 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," MENA quoted Hosni as saying. The reception in Egypt was a stark contrast to the one Weber received in Jordan on Jan. 16 at that country's ancient city of Petra, also one of the 21 candidates. During his visit, a ceremony was held to declare Petra a contender, with Weber presenting Jordan's Queen Rania with the site's official candidacy at the event. Though the reception at other tour stops, including the Eiffel Tower and Moscow's Kremlin, was more subdued, Weber appears to also have been warmly greeted with ceremonies at other sites including the Taj Mahal in India, Angkor in Cambodia and the Kiyomizu Temple in Japan, according to his blog on the campaign's Web site. But the cool reception from Egyptian officials may not hurt the pyramid's chances of making it on the new list. With more than 24 million votes so far, Viering said the more than 4,000-year-old tombs are in the top seven. "We know that people all around the world want the pyramids as part of this as do people in Egypt," Viering said. "I think this controversy is a bump in the road, and I hope they will get over it."