February 1, 2011

Egypt on Fire

via Reuters

As the momentous events continue to unfold in Egypt, I have been struck by the basically decent responses of most Egyptians. After days of trying to call, we finally managed to contact friends in Beni Suef, both Muslim and Christian. They have spent all their money on food and are barricaded in their houses. The young men of each block gather every morning to patrol their neighborhood, turning looters over to the army. I was heartened to read that citizens, on their own initiative, organized to protect the Egyptian Museum.

On the Bibliotheca Alexandrina website, director Ismail Serageldin writes:

"The young people organized themselves into groups that directed traffic, protected neighborhoods and guarded public buildings of value such as the Egyptian Museum and the Library of Alexandria. They are collaborating with the army. This makeshift arrangement is in place until full public order returns.

"The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters."

Libraries in Egypt, it seems, are always in danger. One could argue that cutting off the net, as Mubarak has done, is a modern form of book-burning.

Of course, I can't help but note that the scenes at the end of The Book on Fire, with Alexandria burning and running battles in the streets, seem to be coming to life. Those scenes were inspired partly by the events I witnessed in 2006, when Coptic Christians were stabbed in several churches and inter-religious tensions were running high. So far, in the current events, the religious element has been somewhat submerged under the general euphoria, but it will certainly play a huge role in the coming months.

I hope that the outcome of the present struggle is peaceful and results in greater freedom and stability, and that the libraries of Egypt, in whatever form, emerge from the fires with new wings . . .

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