The appointment late last month of the Islamist Alaa Abdel Aziz as Culture Minister, and his swift move to replace the culture ministry’s liberal leaderships with Islamists, has had the cultural arena in Cairo all fired up. But intellectuals are especially worried about the National Library and Archives and the priceless collection it houses
In the wake of the replacement of the head of the Dar al-Kutub wal-Watha’iq al-Misriya (The Egyptian National Library and Document House), Abdel-Nasser Hassan who had reached the retirement age, and four top management figures: Abdel-Wahed al-Nabawi, Mohamed al-Dali, Iman Ezzeddin, and Nevine Mahmoud; the four issued a joint statement on the matter. The statement declared they had been dismissed in a disgraceful manner; their contracts with Dar al-kutub, were tersely ended, to the point that they were not even allowed to take their personal possessions from their offices, as if they were “enemies to the Ministry of Culture”.
“Our dismissal,” the statement read, “does not represent a personal loss to us as much as it fills us with trepidation for the future of the cultural institution of Dar al-Kutub and its contents. We fear for the future of this priceless cultural legacy from those who are afraid of their history.”
Jewish, Arabic, Egyptian heritage
The current wave of the Ikwanisation—Ikhwan is Arabic for [Muslim] Brotherhood—of the Culture Ministry, which has been taking place once Alaa Abdel-Aziz was appointed Culture Minister some three weeks ago, has prompted Egypt’s liberals and intellectuals to call on the army to guard the historic building of Dar al-Kutub and the invaluable collection of books, documents and maps it houses.
According to Magdi Hemdan, member of the administrative bureau in the Salvation Front—the strongest secular opposition coalition today in Egypt—the documents and maps in Dar al-Kutub are now under serious threat. Some of these documents, he remarked, were of special interest for the Muslim Brothers and their pan-World Islamic project. And, taking into account the fact that the Islamic loyalty of the MB precedes their Egyptian allegiance, these documents may very well be under serious threat of theft or being tampered with.
Among the documents housed in Dar al-Kutub, which require special permits from sovereign authorities—such as the Foreign Ministry or the National Security Apparatus—to look into are papers and maps that concern the drawing of country borders, Islamic and corporate documents, documents that concern the former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, and others that concern Hassan al-Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood movement in 1929. There are also documents that concern the Shia. Also present is the Jewish Cairo Geniza which was discovered in 1864 in old Cairo, had an accumulation of almost 280,000 Jewish manuscript fragments written from about 870AD to the 19th century, and tells in startling details the history of the Jews in Egypt. Other documents are those famously known as Watha’iq al-Sihr, Sorcery documents. All these documents could be used to wreak havoc if they fall into the wrong hands.
19 June 2013