Library of Alexandria in Danger
Through its Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as the largest bloc following a November 28 vote-the first election since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, and the first free election in Egypt in more than 80 years. Additional parliamentary elections will be held through March.
Observers of Egyptian politics will keep an eye on what this fundamentalist surge portends for the country’s cultural and secular institutions, including the renowned Library of Alexandria. Located in Egypt’s second-largest city, the library sits on roughly the same site once occupied by the fabled Royal Library of Alexandria, the most significant library of the ancient world, which was destroyed more than 1,000 years ago.
Today, Sohair Wastawy, its former chief librarian, worries that the election of Islamists could endanger the library’s collections. “The library has a huge theater. It has dancing, musical plays and movie presentations, which, according to the right wing in Egypt, are not good things,” she says.
From 2004 to 2010, Wastawy oversaw the collection that currently holds some 1.6 million volumes. Threats to the library are nothing new. Several years ago, when a Muslim member of Parliament complained about the presence of Israeli books in Egyptian libraries, the Mubarak regime’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni reportedly replied, “If those books existed I would burn them myself.”