Ismail Serageldin

Statements & Reflections

Events in Alexandria as of 23 November 2011


Dear friends,

This is an update on the situation in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA), Alexandria and Egypt.

As you know, we had strikes and demonstrations that called for my resignation and that of senior managers and that closed down the Library for two weeks (albeit with the Eid Holidays included). Armed with the confidence of the Board of Trustees and a strong statement of support from the Government and of intellectuals inside and outside of Egypt, I re-engaged with the demonstrators. It took a lot of patience to negotiate with different groups of strikers and demonstrators, but we have gradually diffused a large part of the situation. We agreed on 18 specific demands that are being implemented. The Library reopened – more or less – on Sunday the 13th.

Since last Tuesday the 15th , the Library was completely reopened to visitors and readers, most of the staff went back to work, while some (much smaller) demonstrations continue. Where we had 700-800 demonstrators closing down the Library, we now have about 50 that swell up to 100 occasionally and that attract passing people only for a few moments on their way into or out of the Library. Where the library was closed, the Library is now open and receiving and serving the public. Above all, we avoided any violence. No Police or Army interventions, no wounded demonstrators and not a stone thrown at the Library.

But the situation is very volatile. Monday the 21st , the protesters, even though small in numbers (only about 70-80 ) succeeded in closing the Library again, as we tried to reason with them, and they tried to hook up their protest with the much bigger protests going on throughout the country. The day passed without violence, a few visitors and readers did get in, but it was not a good day. Yesterday and today, (Tuesday and Wednesday the 22nd and 23rd) we succeeded in opening the Library again and we are back for the time being to full functioning. Again, without violence. Our university students and visitors were very happy to get back into the library, and our staff was happy to be able to serve them.

But the whole situation in Egypt is extremely tense and getting very bad. In the national demonstrations and confrontations of the last three days: violence erupted, anger is mounting, and so far we have at least 25 dead and 1800 wounded in the Cairo demonstrations, and at least one dead and hundreds wounded in Alexandria. The situation has not been resolved and the demonstrations continue as I write and the numbers of dead and wounded continue to rise.

The situation is quite explosive, and any spark from any of the events around us could reignite the whole situation at the Library. I am working around the clock, 16 hours a day, every day, to diffuse the impacts of rumors and attacks till we settle things down again. Hopefully the BA, with its small problems, will not get swept into the maelstrom of the much much bigger events that surround us.

But, regretfully, the whole country situation is getting extremely tense, the Government (the Cabinet) has resigned and the Military is trying to form a National Unity Government, and reiterated their promise to hold legislative elections on the 28th (five days from now) and to have an elected President before the end of June 2012, at which time they guaranteed to hand over power to the elected representatives of the people. But very large numbers of protesters are back in the streets confronting the police and the military. Tension is mounting as we move closer to the elections. More upheavals and more problems still lie ahead as we move towards the calmer seas of true democracy.

Ismail Serageldin

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