Ismail Serageldin

Statements & Reflections

Update on Events in Egypt and the BA on 2 July 2012


Dear friends,

Many friends have been sending me individual questions about the unfolding events in Egypt and events concerning the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA), especially given the negative and malicious campaign that has been waged against me and the BA. So this is to set the record straight and to keep you informed of developments.

The overall situation in Egypt is extremely tense, as you probably know. Since my last update over six weeks ago, much has happened in Egypt, most notably the first ever truly open and fair presidential election, and has elected the first Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate ever. It is time to welcome President Morsi.

Although participation was not as high as the legislative elections, it was quite solid and today, as I write this, Egypt has elected its first president ever! It is an exalting and exhilarating moment, regardless of anyone’s political orientation.

The 50% election:

But the Egyptian presidential election runoff has been wonderful and disturbing: it is the 50% election. About 50% of the electorate voted and the votes were split between the two candidates almost 50-50! The 50% NOT participating is saying that people are getting tired of politics and disenchanted with the elections. The 50% participating voters are more active in trying to defeat the other candidate than believing in their own candidate. The 50-50 split is telling us that the country is deeply divided. More deeply and evenly than anyone thought.

The splits are complex. The 50-50 alignment represents both a revolution/non-revolution and an Islamist/anti-Islamist split. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has exacerbated these divisions with its important decisions in the last week. These have sparked fierce battles which are being fought in the media and with demonstrations in the streets. Will Egyptians remain peaceful? I believe so.

The president-elect:

So, winning by a very narrow margin, with many abstentions, and SCAF-redefined powers, Dr. Morsi, the president-elect faces many challenges. The president-elect must make every effort to reach out to a broad spectrum of Egyptian politics. He must become the great conciliator. We must all rally around him. His success is Egypt’s success and his failure will be Egypt’s failure.

Cause for optimism -- Some important points:

But, several very important points need to be stressed lest they be lost in the drama of the events:

First: Egypt is peaceful. The demonstrations and the verbal battles on TV and the News media, both electronic and printed, are peaceful. There is remarkably little violence in a country of this size.

Second: Egyptians tend to accept the rule of law and the judgment of the courts even when they are not happy with these judgments. They demonstrate (loudly but peacefully) but still they end up accepting them. That is very very important. Examples abound: The disqualification of ten individuals from running for the presidency, three of whom would have been top contenders: The Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Khairat El Shater, the Salafist Hazem Abu-Ismail and the former VP of Mubarak general Omar Suleiman. Also note that the Mubarak trial unfolded in a civilian court and the verdict was given by civilian judges and there is still room for appeal under the regular civilian due process rules. This contrasts with the use of revolutionary courts in most revolutions when trying the former regime.

Third: We have had peaceful elections. All the elections have tended to be very peaceful and orderly as well as transparent and monitored. Egyptians have shown that they can run free and fair elections and that they prefer to settle differences with ballots rather than bullets.

All this is quite remarkable in the entire region. Only Tunisia has done as well if not better. Ah! But will that last? Will the demonstrations remain loud but peaceful? Will it end up with grudging acceptance of the final outcome of the democratic process?

I think the latter. Egyptians are largely tired of the endless demonstrations and yearn for stability and a return to a growing economy. But with the stakes being so high, the issues being so complex and the country being so divided, there is no guarantee that this peaceful pattern will continue.

We can only hope that it will be so. For we have much work to do. We must write our constitution and heal the divisions among our people as we rally to the cause of rebuilding our economy and fashioning the institutions and the laws of the new Egypt.

Events at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA)

Allow me now to report on the situation of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) and myself.

A recapitulation:

After the 25th January Revolution, and the exalting moment when the young revolutionaries protected the BA by holding hands in a human chain to prevent any harm coming to the Institution, the situation changed throughout the country. The BA was not immune to such changes. Disturbances and attacks were launched by some of our own staff, with some external (but very minor) support. But despite some rocky moments, things have been running more or less normally in the BA for the last six months.

The major issues have been dealt with. We avoided any violence. No Police or Army interventions, no wounded demonstrators and not a stone thrown at the Library. The remaining malcontents are about 15-25 people who may be able to mobilize another 10-15 more people but nowhere near the many hundreds who closed down the library for a few days last year. But we had handled that situation with rational and civil discourse. In discussing these numbers it is important to remind the reader that the staff of the library number about 2,500. So we are talking about only 1% of the staff being malcontents, the remaining 99% are working at their posts.

I am sorry to say that these malcontents have been attacking the BA and myself in a sustained smear campaign in the media, in parliament; and in the Justice System, starting with the Office of the Prosecutor General (PG) and ending in the courts. That last included 118 accusations of corruption, every one of which was avidly investigated by a rather harsh Prosecutor.

Regretfully, we saw that the Office of the Prosecutor General (PG) investigated any and all accusations and allegations made, no matter how wild and unreasonable they were. In these long investigations, the prosecution was determined and meted exceptionally harsh treatment to me and my colleagues. No one could say that the investigators went easy on us, which makes the final decision to exclude all felony corruption charges all the more important.

I am happy to report that after the General Prosecutor’s Office finished its enormous investigations, after:
• An intensive review that lasted almost a full year;
• Thousands of pages of documents submitted as evidence; and,
• Hundreds of hours of interrogation of dozens of people …
All this finally resulted in:

All charges of felony corruption have been set aside, and any suspicion of intentional misuse of public funds has been discarded.

However, The Prosecutor is still presenting a case for three counts of infraction (“gonha” in Arabic), due to a disagreement with three minor management decisions, two of which involve giving our staff extra payments, and the last a disagreement over the amount of rental that coffee shops pays the library.

What other institution could be subjected to such scrutiny, reviewing thousands upon thousands of transactions for the entire 11 years of its existence and come out with such a clean certification?

The Court met three times and finally the Judge ruled to set aside the prosecution’s report, to ask the justice department to provide other experts to look again at the three management decisions (gonha) challenged by the prosecutors and to report back in October.

In the meantime, the court also issued a powerful statement on lifting the travel ban imposed by the prosecutors that kept me from traveling these last eight months. The judgment mentions that this is not just a matter of my constitutional rights to travel, but also that the court must underline importance that the good work of the BA should not be impeded, and that this work of the Library maintains the name of Egypt high among the nations!

So here I am in the USA at the Library of Congress and the Academy of Sciences discussing our projects and about to resume my usual travels.

But this whole episode is indeed a badge of honor. We have been certified as a well-run, clean institution after being scrutinized and subjected to more investigations than any other institution of our peers, and in the end, all charges were dismissed by the hostile prosecutors, and the court upheld the good name of the Library, its management, and its staff.

While coping with all of that, however, we did not lose sight of the mission of the BA. We did our work, and in addition we have overhauled our personnel statutes and updated some of our procedures and are moving in a participatory fashion to validate our management as we update our organizational structures. We have reviewed with the Board of Trustees the needs of strategic changes for the BA’s role in the new Egypt. In addition we note:

• The positive achievements of the BA in maintaining its more or less normal range of activities and the substantial (necessarily reduced) outputs we recorded;

• The Financial situation and the good outcome at the end of this fiscal year; and

• Strengthened our management systems for the year ahead.

So we hope that the changing politics of Egypt do not embroil the BA and that the powers that be shall allow the BA to continue its good work. Indeed, this new fiscal year, starting July first, will witness our tenth anniversary, which we shall celebrate from October to December 2012, with our friends and we hope with our new president. Our success in the coming year will finally ensure the proper transition of the BA to continue to play its powerful and constructive role in the new Egypt.

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