Egyptian librarian pushes for 'tolerance, openness'
'The exercise of freedom among young people is the best investment against extremism'
By Ursula Lindsey
Special to The [Lebanon] Daily Star
Saturday, June 05, 2004
In the past year the library has also already weathered its first major controversy, one Serageldin sees as having ended in affirmation. In the winter of 2003, the library came under international criticism for displaying an ancient copy of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in its rare books showcase.
A local newspaper reported incorrectly that the book was headlining an exhibit and that it was displayed next to the Torah. After the ensuing uproar, the book (which had been selected for exhibition by the director of the rare books museum) was removed and Serageldin issued an explanatory statement.
"It was a very innocent thing," he says. "It was the first edition of the fist Arabic translation of the protocols. It was kind of a curiosity."
Once the book was removed, elements of the Egyptian press accused Serageldin of bowing to foreign pressure and betraying the principle of freedom of expression.
Eventually a declaration was circulated, Serageldin recounts, that said, "enough of this. Attacking the library as anti-Semitic is nonsense and attacking it as ... knuckling down to pressure is equal nonsense."
Almost 600 signatures have been added to this statement by now, including everyone, Serageldin says, "from famous intellectuals to assistant professors of engineering in Assiut."
"It was beautiful to see hundreds of people rallying to the library," says Serageldin. "The library has become a rallying point for progressive opinion in Egypt."
I would feel happier with this explanation Dr. Serageldin had replied to the questions in my e-mail (see first link above).