UPDATE December 19, 2011: Unfortunately the very same forces that have kept Egypt in the dark about its cultural resources, its libraries and heritage have been abusing the devastating burning of the Institut d’Egypte on government and some private media outlets to guilt Egyptians for the loss of heritage. Similar tactics were used in the early days of the January 25 uprising when the Egyptian Museum was broken into and some artifacts were damaged. The regime never promoted Egypt’s museums and heritage for Egyptians to enjoy. Culture, it seems, is only another tool in the regime’s arsenal to further guilt Egyptians into believing that it is they who stand in the way of Egypt’s progress. In Egypt 2011 bank buildings are insured and safeguarded while a library containing rare books is not, no insurance policy and no fire protection.
Beginning of original post: Amid clashes today between army personnel and protesters a Molotov cocktail landed on a historic building at the corner of Qasr el Aini and Sheikh Rihan Streets. The building engulfed in flames was home to the Egyptian Research Council (المجمع العلمي المصري) also known as the Institut d’Egypte. The library in the building contains original publications dating back to 1798 including the famous Description de l’Egypte.
This surreal video shows an artist painting a portrait of Emad Effat, the Azhar scholar killed yesterday. Behind him the Institut building is burning.
Note on the Collections: The collection consists of both books and bound manuscripts. These publications date back to the 1500’s and come from prominent donors. The writer noted several book plates of Yacub Artin Pasha, Nubar Artin Pasha, and stamped covers indicating the book had originally been a gift to Muhammad Ali or one of his successors.
As can be imagined, it is very strong in nineteenth century works. An interesting feature is that letters and manuscripts have been bound and shelved like books. Sometimes, these thin volumes have slipped behind the stack, and one must be diligent to find them. Several are unpublished works related to the French 1798 invasion, and worthy of further study.
The International School of Information Science (ISIS), a research institute founded by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA)]
“The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is taking the initiative in reviving the organization of L’Institut d’Egypte built in Cairo by Napoleon Bonaparte over 200 years ago. The Institut’s first scholars were in charge of the research, study and publication of physical, industrial and historical facts about Egypt, publishing findings that stemmed from their activities as members of that body. They were later to produce the Description de l’Egypte. Eventually, the L’Institut d’Egypte became the focal point for scholarly work and intellectual pursuit in Egypt, and provided both actual space and structure for scholarly discourse. It is also recognized as the oldest functioning academy of sciences and arts outside Europe.
L’Institut owns a huge collection (over 35,000 volumes) of rare and ancient references, books and periodicals in 5 languages (Arabic, French, English, German and Russian). BA has suggested nine projects for its revival, among which is a project of digitizing its entire collection, thereby preserving it and making it available to the public. The efforts began with the digitization of the 10 volumes of Description de l’Egypte. Other special collections were digitized such as the complete works of Voltaire (69 volumes), Des Mille Nuits et Une Nuit (16 volumes), and Geographie Universelle (15 volumes). Eventually, the whole library of the Institut will be digitized and made available to the public. This will be the first attempt to digitize and publish a collection of such rarity and value.”