“We will not be out of turbulence for a little while.”
Ismail Serageldin, Director, Bibliotheca Alexandrina
“We are trying to have a transformation through this turmoil.”
Fathy Abou Ayana, Chairman,
Egyptian Association for Friends of Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Egyptians at the recent meeting of the International Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (IFBA) were eager to explain the current state of affairs in their country. The meeting itself was extraordinary – a Webex meeting which allowed almost two dozen participants from several countries to see and hear each other as we talked about the library and the country we all cherish.
Petition photo by Ahmed Ateyyaf for Egypt Pulse
Egyptians are especially concerned about what they perceive as bias in Western media reports that continue to refer to the “coup” that forced Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July. Because millions of Egyptians had peacefully signed a petition seeking a new round of presidential elections and because that request was refused by Mr. Morsi, the military stepped in to fulfill the wishes of those millions and point the country in a new direction. Not a coup, they insist.
“The vast majority of Egyptians sided with the demand to remove Morsi,” explained Dr. Serageldin. “Twenty percent fervently supported him. There are those who want a country whose identity is linked to a particularly Islamic interpretation and those who want a pluralist outlook without inculcating Islam into the structure of the country.” The military stopped a headlong movement toward a more Islamic state without intending to concentrate power in the hands of a few military officers – the traditional outcome of a coup.
Dr. Serageldin remains optimistic about the future of Egypt, largely because of what he calls a “magical transformation…If you had asked me the biggest problem in Egyptian society under former President Hosni Mubarak, I would have said the apathy of the Egyptian people. Now Egyptian society is totally engaged in a manner undreamed for 40 to 50 years: people of modest backgrounds to university professors and society ladies who would never have participated in a demonstration…This gives me great hope that there will be checks and balances and people will not go back to an authoritarian regime. The unwillingness of the people to be pushed around is a new reality. Any leader will have to cope with that.”
Friends of the BA
Dr. Serageldin is proud that all sides have remained strong supporters of the library, including the many Friends organizations around the world. Shortly after the October meeting, he announced a major agreement with the Royal Tropical Institute of the Netherlands, Europe’s largest library pertaining to development issues. The library’s collection of 400,000 books and 20,000 journals is being transferred to the BA, which will protect it and make it publicly accessible.
Friends groups from different countries often support particular projects or sections at the BA. The Swedish Friends collect books for the Nobel Library at the BA. They are also gathering a digital “UN Dag Hammarskjold Peace Mediator Archive” to be made available through the BA to peace researchers around the world.
The Egyptian Friends organize public lectures, dinners and special events at the Library itself, including workshops for young people on poetry and digital design.
The Dutch Friends support the BA’s Taha Hussein Library for blind and visually impaired individuals.
The French are funding training for librarians who work with the BA’s large French collection.
Mexican Friends are developing a “Casa de las Culturas del Mediterráneo, Africa y Medio Oriente” to foster cultural exchanges in Mexico City. The Minnesota Friends frequently work with the NGO Books for Africa to ship containers of books to the Alexandria Library. The California Friends coordinated the donation of 1,000 origami peace cranes made by children in Sacramento to the children of Alexandria, Egypt.
The Friends of the BA in Baltimore is a subcommittee of the Baltimore-Alexandria Sister City Committee – we are working to revitalize the activities of this Friends group – watch this space for upcoming events and opportunities!
Congratulations to Friends groups around the world for their creativity, their generosity and their joy in keeping their hands around the Bibliotheca Alexandrina!