For me, archaeology is not a just a job. It combines everything that I could want - imagination, intellect, action, and adventure.

— Zahi Hawass

December 17, 2011: A Sad Day in My Life

 This is a sad day for all of us who love Egypt. No one can believe that the Egyptian Scientific Institute has been destroyed. 

 On December 17, 2011, I joined the many people who watched the disaster on television. I was horrified to see the library burning in front of my eyes. This day will never be forgotten by intellectuals, and indeed all who love learning, not only in Egypt, but all over the world.

I was terribly upset to see young people in front of the building rejoicing at what they had done. When I looked at their faces, I could see that the majority were people who had nothing to do with the Revolution. I saw one boy of about 12 who was asked why he was there. He replied that he wanted el-Ganzory (the recently-appointed Prime Minister) to leave the government. I am sure that someone told this boy to say these words. Why can we not give el-Ganzory a chance to work and to bring safety and security back to the country? I saw another person say that we need the military to leave. This is not wise. The military council helped ensure the success of the revolution. They have promised to complete the elections and the new constitution before June 2012, and I think we should give them a chance to do this.

The day after the Institute burned down, my dear friend Salah Montaser, a famous columnist who has a daily feature in the Al-Ahram newspaper, called me and told me that almost 90,000 books had been lost, containing over 300 years of our shared history. As we spoke, we both had tears in our eyes.

The Egyptian Scientific Institute was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, and holds about 20,000 manuscripts and rare books. It is the oldest scientific academy in the Arab world. It is registered as an antiquities site and is therefore the responsibility of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. I could not believe that the people who burned it down were Egyptians. Samir Gharib, one of Egypt’s great writers, told me that he saw one woman whistling with joy; he could not believe it, or understand at all why she was doing this. But I am sure that they are ignorant, and do not understand what they have done.

Many great books of our history are now ashes. A first edition of the Description de l’Egypte, published by Napoleon’s scientific expedition, was burned, but fortunately there are other copies in Egypt, one at the Geographic Society, another in the house of Documents and Books, and an incomplete on at Assiut University.

I think the looters and other ignorant people who did this should listen to what the late Shiekh el-Shaarawy (a great Muslim thinker who would offer advice to the people every Friday) used to say. According to our famous cartoonist, Moustafa Anssien, he said that the true revolutionary who turns in fury to destroy capitalism should first calm down and work instead to build the glory of his country.

I hope that UNESCO and scientific institutions all over the world can cooperate to bring back the glory of this Institute. This is not only our history; it is the history of the world.

I find it very distressing that so many crooks, looters, and thieves have taken advantage of the Revolution to come out of their holes not only to rob and steal, but also to hurt all of us. I can see that many good people are silent, and many crooks have loud voices. We need our young people to protect the Revolution, to stop demonstrating in Tahrir Square and give all of us a chance to make this work. Egypt needs to become stable again so the economy can grow. We need to move forward, to build our country by finishing the elections peacefully and choosing a new president. We should all stand firm in front of the crooks who have come out of their holes not only to destroy the revolution, but also to destroy Egypt. 

 

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