Ismail Serageldin

Statements & Reflections

Update on Events in Alexandria as of 23 November 2011


Many friends have been sending me individual questions about the unfolding events in Egypt and at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA). In general, things are improving at the BA, albeit slowly, and Egypt has started a spectacular elections process (see below and attached).

Update to Events in Alexandria as of 30 11 2011 from Ismail Serageldin:

Dear friends,

The Egyptian elections are progressing extremely well, better than anybody dared to hope for. As I cautiously predicted on my Tweets, despite the violence in the streets last week, there were signs that the incurable optimist in me saw as good signs for the advance of democracy.
What were those signs?

Recall that last week, as we got closer to the elections, Egyptians were demonstrating everywhere: Tahrir, Abassiya, elsewhere. Bullets were being fired. Tens of people were killed and thousands wounded. Violence was everywhere. Our anguished cries went out: The authorities MUST bring those responsible to account promptly. But the authorities were in Flux and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) seemed hesitant and unsure. The government resigned. Another interim civilian government was being formed. The real question was whether we can move from bullets to ballots.

There were good signs that it could happen.

First: The demonstrations were due to specific confrontations that triggered the explosions, not the election campaigns, per se.

Second: Before the explosions of last week, the actual election campaigns had no violence compared to the rigged elections of the past.

Third: The elections are better prepared than ever before, with voter lists from computerized data bases, detailed information by internet, cellphone and in the media.

Fourth: Difficult elections in syndicates had already progressed peacefully. Professionals campaigned for head and council in their syndicates. The lawyers elected Sameh Ashour, an ardent Nasserite, with several political tendencies represented in the elected council. After the lawyers, it was the engineers. There a Muslim-backed candidate won 51% of the vote. All this is promising for the future of syndicates and unions in Egypt.

Fifth: Participation should be high, as there are many many parties and candidates competing.

The wide spread of political ideas represented in the campaigns is great. Democracy is about Pluralism, and pluralism is about differences of views. The point is to settle these differences through the ballot box, not by confrontations in the streets. Egypt needs us all. So, like other liberals I called for moving from confrontation to discussion, from violence to voting, from destroying the past to building the future, as we approached the first truly free and fair elections in Egypt for sixty years.

My optimism was well-founded. The first round of elections went extremely well. Egyptian elections are carried out in three rounds, each covering a number of governorates, as there are not enough judges to monitor all the polling stations in the whole country at the same time. Runoff elections are held if no candidate gets 50% of the vote in the original round. This time one third of the seats will be for individuals and two thirds for proportional lists of different parties. The first round of these legislative elections was held on the 28 & 29 November 2011. It now seems that the Islamist currents will win in a big way. Maybe as much as 60-65%. The liberals, secularists and leftists are in disarray, and have not campaigned effectively. Some lost a lot of credibility by calling for a boycott of these elections. The Islamist deep rooted presence in many many poor neighborhoods is not due to religion only, it is also due to well-functioning networks of clinics, schools and other social services.

I think that this first round was truly great. No violence, good participation, many candidates. Orderly queues, waiting hours if need be. No violence. Whoever wins most, whether they are Islamists, liberals or Nasserite, moderates or hard-liners, it is still a most promising start for a new future. The people are participating in very large numbers in an orderly, free and fair election and that is the most important thing. We must all accept the result of the ballot box.

The march to democracy has started. These are the first fruits of our revolution of January 25th. It is time to celebrate. But it is also time to pay homage to the dead and wounded who made this possible. The fallen must never be forgotten.

Back to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA):

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

• Where we had 700-800 demonstrators closing down the Library, we now have about 40 that swell up to 70 occasionally and that attract passing people only for a few moments on their way into or out of the Library;
• Where many of the staff were sympathetic with the demonstrators even when they closed down the library, the majority of the staff now want the library open (see beautiful article by Amal Al Gayyar in Al Ahram – attached);
• Where the library was closed, the Library is now open and receiving and serving the public;
• Where the only demand was my resignation and that of the Directors, we are now addressing 18 specific demands that we negotiated and are currently implementing; and, above all:
• We avoided any violence. No Police or Army interventions, no wounded demonstrators and not a stone thrown at the Library.

But all these results are still prone to reversals. The situation is very volatile, but we must continue on the path of non-violence and confronting anger and distrust with rationality and civil discourse. We must continue to do real changes and to solve real problems.
So now we await the formation of two committees: one that will assess the manner in which the 18 demands are being implemented, the other is the committee promised by the Board of Trustees in its statement of 3 November 2011, which will review the entire situation of the staff and the contracts and other issues and will propose important changes in the statutes of the BA.

VERY IMPORTANT : New dangers ahead:

However, to all my friends, I must warn you of new danger signals. As you know, some have waged a campaign in the press and the media to discredit me and the BA, vilifying both as corrupt legacies of the old regime. This has been persistent and tenacious. Now, I sense that whoever is so desperately trying to attack the BA and myself, is now trying to revive the many small corruption allegations that have been filed since last march, and have been responded to many times, and is 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 a new kind of danger that is not easily addressed by rational argument and evidence, since these tools would come into play only after the damage is done. Ultimate vindication may not be enough, but I trust that the quality of the management of the BA which produced these great results in a few short years, the systemic reviews of the Government auditors and the external auditors every year plus 40 years of public life in international and national matters involving projects and finance, are enough of a shield for my reputation and a reassurance for my friends of my integrity should it be put to the test.

Truth will ultimately prevail. I will keep you informed.

Ismail Serageldin
Alexandria, 30 November 2011

Copyright © 2021