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Don’t Shoot on the Bibliotheca?

February 17, 2010

An article written by Alexandre Buccianti in the Opinion Writing Workshop:

Is culture vital in a poor country? Should one spend the equivalent of 6 billion baladi bread on something nobody asked for? What’s the use of creating a container when you have nothing to put in it? Was the building of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina necessary?

It all began in the mid 80’s. After building an International Conference Complex, the Egyptian Regime looked at ways to justify the throwing of money at sea. The best answer was to throw more money. So the idea of a revival of the ancient Library of Alexandria was adopted. Money was gathered from such culture loving regimes as Saddam’s Iraq and the Emirates that just recognised the Taliban regime in Kabul. But worse of all, Egypt, where a third of the population lives with less than 2 dollars a day, decided to spend 60 million dollars on the project.

The building of the Library was not even vital, since there were no books to put inside. UNESCO was even called to the rescue. This time it was not to save culture but to destroy it. Thirty years before, UNESCO participated in the saving of the temples of Nubia . But in 1993 it backed bulldozers destroying land that had never been archeologically searched. The massacre was stopped after a story in the French newspaper “Le Monde” accusing UNESCO of committing a crime against human heritage.

Polish archaeologists began searching in what was left of the two hectares. They found a Roman villa and two mosaics that are proudly displayed today in the Library.

Was it worth the hassle? Yes because the Library is now the only place of liberty of expression in the Arab World. And liberty has no price.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mahmoud Abaza permalink
    February 21, 2010 8:14 pm

    In 2008, the Bibliotheca launched the Memory of Modern Egypt Digital Archive, thanks to which tens of thousands of photographs, newspapers and sound recordings relating to Egypt’s modern history were digitized. Such material was not easily available previously. For this reason, I’d say building the Bibliotheca was definitely worth it. No price should be too high for saving Egypt’s cultural heritage, especially at a time when several of our not-so-distant Arab “brothers” are doing all they can to buy Egypt’s heritage, from its famed singers to its vast cinematographic repertoire.

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