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Bibliotheca Alexandrina: A Knowledge and Cultural Beacon in the Middle East

“During the recent uprising in Egypt, the city of Alexandria witnessed fierce violence including the burning down of the provincial government building and state security headquarters. However a rare point of agreement between anti-regime protestors and the government security apparatus was to protect the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA). The images of a human barricade shielding the BA during the protests highlight the importance of this institution. Built to resurrect and recapture the spirit of the Great Ancient Library of Alexandria, the BA has emerged as a unique centre for education, dialogue, culture and intellectual debate in the Middle East. It can be looked upon as a role model not only for the region, but also for other countries with ancient cultures.

“BA is an establishment which supports scientific enquiry and utilizes cutting edge technology whilst simultaneously aiding the preservation of art and culture, promotion of causes such as youth and women empowerment, political reform and transparency in the Arab world.”

Implications from IFTF:

Perhaps part of the success of BA is that it truly practices what it preaches. Regarding youth, “The BA runs various youth related programs targeted at holistic development and learning. Its Dialogue Forum organizes an Arab Youth Forum on an annual basis. The League of Young Masters (LYM), launched in 2006, organizes the “Safwa Club” in different university faculties, thus improving communication channels between students of different streams. Furthermore, the BA employs primarily young people, with 16% of its employees under the age of 25 and 70% of its employees under the age of 35 in 2010.” And with respects to promoting gender equality, “In addition to contributing towards intellectual discourse on women rights and empowerment, the BA has also employed 35 % female employees, as compared to the national average of 24.4 % of female labor force participation.”

Implications from SFG-ME

“There are many lessons to be learnt from the library’s success as a leading information hub, contributing to art and culture, scientific and technological development, and intellectual discourse. Similar efforts from other parts of the world such as the Nalanda University in India could learn from the experiences of this important effort. In 2010, the Indian Parliament passed the Nalanda University Revival Bill, seeking to rebuild the ancient Nalanda University near the original site in Bihar. Setting up similar interdisciplinary centres could likewise promote intellectual reform, cultural preservation and scientific research in developing countries, where there is a vacuum at present.”

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