He called himself the real Indiana Jones and keeper of Egypt’s heritage, and was an almost permanent presence on any television programme about the country’s colourful past.
Dr Hawass was head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities for 10 years, and before that in charge of the Pyramids and Sphinx on the Giza plateau outside Cairo. He staged regular press conferences unveiling new discoveries from the time of the pharaohs.
In honour of his claim that the film producer George Lucas consulted him before creating the character of Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, he was rarely seen without a large fedora hat.
But after being made minister of antiquities in one of Hosni Mubarak’s last acts as president, he has been sacked to appease growing hostility from anti-government protesters, not least archaeologists fed up with his style of management.
Social networking sites like Twitter were flooded with inevitable jokes, from “the Curse of the Mummy strikes” to comments such as “Zahi Hawass to no longer appear in every single TV special on Egypt”. Some were simpler, saying, “Please take your hat with you.”
Dr Hawass was popular among journalists, visitors and for a time Egyptians themselves for his flamboyant style and unchallenged commitment to promote Egypt’s treasures and to use them to attract tourists.
He also led populist campaigns to return Egypt’s heritage from museums abroad, most notably the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum.
However, local archaeologists accused him of stealing credit for their achievements, and “recycling” discoveries for publicity.
More seriously, as the Egyptian revolution unfolded, his finances, friendship with Mr Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, and management of resources came into question.
He was revealed to receive a regular income from the National Geographic channel, and was put on trial over the contract under which a company which marketed a “souvenir Hawass clothing line”, including copies of the trademark hat, was awarded the rights to run the souvenir shop in the National Museum in Cairo.
He claimed that proceeds from the hats went to children’s charities, of which Mrs Mubarak was patron.
At one stage, while protesters were flooding Tahrir Square and the road outside the Television Centre, archaeologists were staging their own strike outside the offices of the Antiquities Council.
Matters were made worse when the extent of damage and looting to the poorly guarded museum and other historic sites during the demonstrations became clear.
The prime minister, Essam Sharaf, this weekend bowed to renewed protests by young activists who claim that the interim Supreme Military Council, which is overseeing the country until new elections, is keeping too much power to itself. Mr Sharaf removed half his cabinet, including Dr Hawass, on Sunday afternoon.
It is unlikely that the Egyptian government will drop its campaign for the return of the Rosetta Stone. But the scandals surrounding his removal will remove some of the pressure on the British Museum, as the financial crisis in Greece has over its other controversial exhibit, the Elgin Marbles.
Dr Hawassâ€™s sacking will be mourned by colleagues around the world, many of whom worked with him closely for decades.
John Baines, professor of Egyptology at Oxford University, said: â€œOver the years he did a lot of good for Egyptian archaeology and in many cases for the Egyptian monuments, but recently he had become very domineering, and an eclipse became increasingly likely.â€