Wednesday, January 25, 2012

[IFLA-L] FW: Trouble at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

-----Original Message-----
From: Middle Eastern and Islamic Library Collections and Bibliography [mailto:LIS-MIDDLE-EASTATJISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of G.J. Roper
Sent: 25 January 2012 11:23
Subject: Trouble at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Below is a recent message from the Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina: part report, part apologia. After a review of the general Egyptian political situation, he describes the events culminating in his enforced exit through his office window, and the serious accusations and judicial proceedings which he now faces.
Dr Geoffrey Roper
Bibliographical & Editorial Consultant
   (Middle Eastern & Muslim areas & languages) Leith, St Mark's Hill, Surbiton London, KT6 4LW,  Great Britain        +44 (0) 20 8390 0497

UPDATE on Events in Egypt and BA 20 01 2012

Dear Friends

This report is to provide an update since the last report I sent you about four weeks ago.

Briefly, I will cover a few observations on the situation in Egypt, and at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA).

Like previous updates, I will also ask you to share this with anyone whom you feel wants to know more about what is going on.

Ismail Serageldin

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Many friends have been sending me individual questions about the unfolding events in Egypt and at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA).

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Events in Alexandria as of 20 01 2012 from Ismail Serageldin -

 The Egyptian Situation as of 20 01 2012

The elections have by and large gone very well, with very high participation rates of over 60% and an orderly and peaceful process, without any serious allegations of fraud.  The Islamists have had an overwhelming victory, with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FAJ) having some 40% of the seats, and the Salafists' Al-Nour party scoring a surprising 20%.  The Speaker of the National Assembly (our Parliament) will be a FAJ member and the two Deputies will be one Salafi and one Liberal.  The politics of assigning committee chairs and assignments is active, and all the new parliament is going to formally have its first session on the 23rd of January, two days before the anniversary of the revolution on the 25th.

Within the new parliament, surprising alliances may emerge. The FAJ is pragmatic and does not seem interested in creating a super group with the Salafists and sees them as competitors rather than allies (so far). Each of the two big Islamist groups may seek alliances with others. Shifting alignments will probably happen depending on the major issues being confronted.  Egypt is entering the era of multi-party parliamentary politics.

Yet there are problems. A hardcore of opponents still takes to the streets to demand the immediate departure of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).  SCAF is pursuing its timetable for elections of the upper chamber and the presidency and to hand over power to the elected government before the end of June. SCAF has also created an advisory council which includes many well-known figures from all groups, headed by Mansour Hassan with the participation of eminent people like Abd Al-Aziz Hegazy and Kamal Aboulmagd.

Our academy of Science, the Institut d'Egypte which was originally founded in 1798, has been burned to the ground in riots at Tahrir Square.  Its collections of books and manuscripts have been damaged beyond repair.  I have been elected VP of the Institut and am helping our new President, Dr. Badran, to restart the Institut's activities, getting the HQ rebuilt and to reconstitute the library.

Mubarak's trial is unfolding, and so the re-trial of a tycoon accused of murdering his sweetheart is announced almost without fanfare, after it had been the biggest news when the first trial was held two years ago.

The media has gone wild.  Endless talk shows, screaming headlines in numerous newly-established newspapers, some of which have more editors than readers, gossip and rumor and false accusations everywhere, especially on Facebook and in the chat-rooms and electronic portals, a surfeit of information, disinformation and no information. Indeed, it applies here to say, he who does not follow the news is uninformed, and he who does is misinformed!

On the cultural scene, the liberals are severely weakened by their poor showing in the elections and the process of transiting from one generation of intellectual elders, many of whom have been tainted by their writings in support of the former regime, to a new and emerging younger generation of intellectuals who are closely associated with the 25th of January 2011 revolution.

On the other hand, the Islamists who have always been identified as opponents of the Mubarak regime have no such baggage.  They are also much closer to the deeply religious Egyptian people.  But Muslim intellectual contributions cover a wide spectrum, even if the media seems focused on the more extreme Salafi views or the Wahabi/Saudi versions of Sunni Islam or the Shia Islam of Iran and Iraq.  We need to revive the balanced Sunni Islam that Egypt was always known for.

Shaikh Al-Azhar is doing that very well.  The BA is closely allied to him in such things as his enunciation of the Al-Azhar declaration, his call for a cultural dialogue (both Serageldin and The Shaikh spoke at the inauguration of that event at Al-Azhar) and his recent efforts at calling together all the political and cultural forces in Society.  He is very effectively reasserting the institution of Al-Azhar as the primary authority in Sunni Islam, and is forcefully articulating the position of balanced rational Islam and is winning much support, including from the Muslim Brotherhood. That will effectively marginalize the extremist views of some militant Islamist movements, who are actively trying to resist him and his supporters such as the current Mufti.

Thus the emerging mapping of the intellectual scene shows the BA as a major bastion of liberalism at a time when the forces of liberalism are weakened.  But, in an ironic twist, some of the liberal anti-Mubarak forces attack it for its being created under the Mubaraks.  In doing that they also unwittingly make common cause with those among the Salafis who do not like the BA and also want to attack it and its Director.

Back to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA):

As I explained in my last update, over the last months, things have improved considerably:

.        Where the library was closed, the Library is now open and receiving and serving the public;

.        We have responded to the various contractual and administrative demands of the staff, and an elected committee of staff and eminent outsiders have reviewed that these demands have been met;

.        The committee promised by the Board of Trustees in its statement of 3 November 2011, has started its work and is reviewing the entire situation of the staff and suggesting some amendments to the Personnel policies and statutes of the BA, which will be submitted to the Board of Trustees for their approval; and

.        The small number of die-hard demonstrators demanding my departure has seen its numbers dwindle while the vast majority of their colleagues are back at work welcoming the researchers, students and visitors.

My Office Is Physically Attacked:

But they became desperate and started moving their demonstrations inside, until on Sunday 8 January 2012, they attacked the executive floor and blocked my office, intimidating and insulting my staff and swearing to beat me up unless I left my post immediately.  Many tried to reason with them to no avail. Eminent outsiders alarmed by the news of what was happening, came to try to help resolve the situation.  But the attackers refused to listen to reason, rejecting the efforts of many officials, including our newly elected representative to the parliament (distinguished former Judge Mahmoud Al Khodairy) and the highest official from the Ministry of Interior in Alexandria (equivalent to the commissioner of the Police in the USA). Finally, after nine hours, the Egyptian Navy commandos sent a taskforce of elite troops to make sure that I was safe and that the building would not be burned or damaged. These forces, after also discussing with them were convinced that to get me out w!
 ould require violent confrontation with them. While the Navy commandos had no problem with that and felt absolutely certain that they could guarantee my safety, they were also concerned that in the melee that would ensue in the confined space of the executive suite, the ladies who were in my office might get hurt.

In my commitment to avoid violence, even though the attackers had broken every law in the books, we looked for other solutions. Finally, after nine hours, I preferred to leave by the window to avoid risks to my staff and we were able to avoid real violence (even though my staff and colleagues were subjected to verbal abuse and physical intimidation reaching in some cases shoves and slaps). But in the end there were no wounded staff, no wounded demonstrators and not a stone thrown at the Library.

Needless to say, I will pursue all actions through the law.  The behavior of these attackers in the executive suite turned many colleagues against them, and as a result, the staff refused to countenance any more demonstrators inside the building and actually removed all the ugly and disparaging signs that they had put in the plaza.  While legal actions proceed at the pace of the legal machinery, the attackers still demonstrate for a few hours every day in the Plaza, and are still hoping to somehow involve the wider public as we approach the 25th of January anniversary of the revolution, now only a few days away.

The situation is still volatile, but we must continue on the path of non-violence and confronting anger and distrust with rationality and civil discourse, thereby remaining true to the values of the BA.

VERY IMPORTANT: Revisiting the "new dangers ahead":

However, to all my friends: I had warned you of new dangers ahead.  Specifically, that those who have waged a persistent and tenacious media campaign against me and the BA, are now trying hard to rig a corruption charge around me.   While I have absolutely no doubt that this would not stand the legal scrutiny of a trial, they are counting that in the currently highly politicized atmosphere of Egypt, the sheer impact of an indictment, even if later dismissed, would be enough to sully my reputation and destroy my credibility and damage the BA administration.

This is now happening.  The investigations that have gone for months are now picking up speed and momentum. And as I go into what appears to be the final round of investigations, I do hope that the Egyptian prosecutors have the integrity and acumen to see through all the false accusations and can take the politically difficult decision to declare that there is no substance to these allegations and to dismiss the case without having to go to a tribunal.  But even if that does not happen, I am confident that any court would vindicate both myself and the BA.

As I said before: Truth will ultimately prevail.  I will keep you informed.

Ismail Serageldin

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Ismail Serageldin
Library of Alexandria
Shatby 21526
Alexandria, EGYPT
Tel: +20-3-487 9993 or +20-3-487 9299
Fax: +20-3-483 0339

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