Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Ismail Serageldin of Library of Alexandria needs support

by Salman Hameed

The former director of the Bibleothica Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria) has been sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on the charges of negligent management of the library. Many of the accusations stemmed soon after Mubarak was ousted from power in 2011 and Ismail was considered Mubarak's stooge. I don't know the details but it is quite likely that this was a politically motivated trail, even though Morsi is also now out of power. Nevertheless, both Science and Nature and close 90 Nobel prizewinners have come out in his support. This is from a Nature editorial:
The political turmoil that followed the uprising against the regime of Egypt’s then-president, Hosni Mubarak, was a time for opportunists. Some library workers with grudges, together with those who considered Serageldin a Mubarak stooge, issued more than 100 different accusations against him, ranging from corruption to money laundering. Prosecutors investigated for more than a year. Finding no evidence, they dropped the criminal charges and instead referred three minor accusations of negligent management to an administrative court in 2012. 
One of the three charges claims that the 110 permanent library staff (the other 2,300 employees are on renewable contracts) were not given enough to do, and thus their government salaries were being wasted. Another refers to a collective life-insurance policy that had been taken out on behalf of staff, which they objected to. The charge claims that Serageldin, who cancelled the policy after three years, deceived the board of directors into agreeing to repay staff for the contributions they had made. The third charge claims that Serageldin incorrectly negotiated a favourable rent for a cafeteria to operate in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, without putting it out to public tender.  
Nothing happened for a few years while the court waited for the prosecution to submit a technical report about the case, which finally arrived this year. Serageldin says that the report led him to expect a dismissal of all charges. Instead, the court found him guilty. And rather than dishing out the usual modest fine for such cases, it issued a prison sentence, something usually reserved for cases in which negligence leads to loss of life.
The appeals court was planning on hearing his case on Sept 19th. I haven't been able to find what happened to the case. Nevertheless, you can find more about his support, including the names of the Nobel laureates, on helpforserageldin. Unfortunately, that website itself was last updated on the day of the appeal hearing.

By the way, I attended a fantastic conference at Bibleothica Alexandrina in 2009 celebrating the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species. Here and here are two posts from 2009 with some pictures of the library.

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