Egypt's Jewel Of A Library Reopens, Thanks To Demonstrators : The Two-Way When Egypt's army asserted itself during the country's recent unrest, a main goal was to protect historical sites. But when it came to the Library of Alexandria, the demonstrators protected the building themselves — by forming a human chain around it.

Egypt's Jewel Of A Library Reopens, Thanks To Demonstrators

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In Egypt, the legendary Library of Alexandria re-opened this week. It was closed for the last few weeks during that country's uprising, both to protect the library from vandalism, and to protest a curfew imposed by the army. The library's director, Ismail Serageldin, says that during the protests, not a stone was thrown at the library, and not a pane of glass was broken.

Mr. ISMAIL SERAGELDIN (Library Director): What happened was pure magic. People from within the demonstrations broke out of the demonstrations and simply linked hands and they said this is our library. Don't touch it.


People formed a human chain to protect that library. Now, during its long history, the Library of Alexandria has been destroyed several times by vandals and conquerors. But Serageldin said this time was different.

Mr. SERAGELDIN: This revolution in Egypt was a liberal revolution. People who believe in democracy and freedom of expression, in pluralism, in openness. And I'm proud and happy that the Library of Alexandria may have contributed in some small way to supporting the kinds of ideas that have found their expression in the young people who led this revolution.

INSKEEP: In fact, the library has hosted conferences on human rights, and calls to end to censorship. It also promotes itself as a model modern library.

Mr. SERAGELDIN: We have a planetarium, exploratorium, the super computer, we have virtual reality chamber.

MONTAGNE: The library hosts hundreds of events, including an annual meeting on Reform in the Arab world, which by coincidence, is scheduled for this weekend. In past years, people have complained that there was no reform to speak of.

Mr. SERAGELDIN: Now, I think nobody can say that nothing is happening, the young people have taken over, and God bless them. It really is an entire societal transformation.

MONTAGNE: Now, the library is creating an archive of that transformation, collecting flyers, official documents, videos and more. Serageldin notes that former President Hosni Mubarak was very involved with the Library of Alexandria. His wife, Suzanne, was even the chairman of the board.

Mr. SERAGELDIN: When the history of the Mubarak era is written, I am sure that the Library of Alexandria will be one of the positives.

MONTAGNE: Library director, Ismail Serageldin, also pointed that by promoting ideas such as freedom of expression, the Library contributed to the intellectual climate that led to Mubarak's overthrow.

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