A Dream Coming True – Building the Fourth Pyramid

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October 2002 a milestone in my professional life, as I tell my students during my first session each semester at the AUC, I was invited to join the Library of Alexandria. October 2007 I completed five years in the service of the library and I look back at these five years with great awe and admiration.

In October I received a phone call to meet Dr. Serageldin in Alexandria at the Library, I drove my daughter to school and went to Alexandria for this meeting.

My first encounter with Dr. Serageldin went back few months during the biotechnology conference that the Library was hosting in March 2002, it was the first time I see him face to face.

Before that encounter, his name was popping out from time to time in issues related to the World bank, then was his campaign to become secretary general of the UNESCO.

During March I found myself for the first time face to face with an unusual man, a man of deep and wide knowledge and outstanding abilities.

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When I received the call to meet Dr. Serageldin I was thrilled. Two reasons were behind such feeling; to meet this unusual man face to face again and to go back to a place that has been always present in our collective memory for a long time the beacon of knowledge and one of the seven wonders. For scholars it was a dream to revive it and recall its spirit from the past, a nostalgia to what this library brought to Alexandria 2300 years ago, it brought the great scholars to Alexandria as Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, and many others.

The Epic of that dream was in 1990 with the Aswan Declaration, that made this dream comes true. Leaders of the world met in Aswan to endorse the project of the revival of the Library of Alexandria.

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Dr. Serageldin wrote the first message as the first director of the Library in 2002 where he said:

“The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a vast cultural complex rising from the shores of the Mediterranean and only a stone’s throw from the location of the ancient library of Alexandria, is a new Egyptian enterprise of international scope and ambition. It is our hope that the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina will be a worthy successor to the great ancient library of Alexandria. That great library was a unique ecumenical effort, a testament to the human intellect and imagination, and it remains etched in the memories of all scientists and intellectuals to this day. The era of the ancient library is undeniably the greatest chapter in the history of Alexandria, but our great city, founded by Alexander and home to Cleopatra, is a city of living history and renewed imagination. For 2300 years, it has inspired the creative talents of scholars and artists from Callimachus to Lawrence Durrell. Even today, the past is come to life as underwater archaeology brings to light the sunken treasures of Alexandria, and captures the imagination of the world with glimpses of bygone glory. ….”

Today, five years from its inauguration, what did the Library achieve?

What has been said on several occasions that it brought back tourism to Alexandria, this is true in view of the number of visitors that it receives yearly, but from an insider this is not the real achievements, the library started in 2002 with a little over 100 staff members the core of its activities, these within few weeks reached a little less than 500 staff members who are today more than 1800 active staff each one having a contribution.

With its inception the library had a mission to be a center of excellence for the production and dissemination of knowledge and to promote dialogue and understanding. It had four objectives; a window for Egypt on the world, a window on Egypt for the world, a leading digital institute and a place for dialogue and understanding.

The real contribution of the Library lies in several things that are purely a reflection of its mission, it managed to bring to the Egyptian scientific community many Nobel Prize laureates in various disciplines, not only in science but in peace and literature, more than 20 Nobel Laureates came to the library.

Nobel Prize winners are the pinnacle and zenith of achievement in their fields; beside their achievements they represent a very positive role model. All of them delivered public address and met and interacted with people, I had the chance to rub shoulders with some of them and enjoy their knowledge and scientific attitude and mode of thinking. I have also seen young students surround them and engage in serious scientific discussions.

Not only Nobel laureates but several eminent international speakers also came to the Library Michel Rocard France ex prime Minister, Dr. Mahatir Mohamed, Malaysia ex prime minister, Lori B. Andrews, Chairman of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future and Director of the Institute for Science, Vinton G. Cerf, widely known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet”, Umberto Eco the renowned Italian novelist and scholar, the Agha Khan these are few who shared their views, opinions and experience with the Egyptian society through the audience at the Library.

It entered the Digital Library Federation, had an agreement with the Library of Congress and many other things.

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So it acted as a real catalyst and disseminator of knowledge, and as a producer of knowledge it has achieved remarkable achievements, through its six research centers it organized conferences and workshops, produced and published books and it acquired through CULTNAT the center of documentation of Heritage a patent for the Culturama the nine screen interactive panoramic show about Egypt’s history, the site Eternal Egypt (www.eternalegypt.com) jointly developed with IBM was voted for best content, it digitized, through ISIS the international school for information science, the Description d’Egypte the outstanding scientific work of the Napoleon campaign to Egypt, its publications list is now made of 33 titles in English or French and 339 titles in Arabic. One of its outstanding books are the translation of the reference History of Writing (Histoire de l’Ecriture) into Arabic.

It has taken the torch of reform and organized the Arab reform forum that in 2003 issued the Alexandria declaration and ever since reform is on the agenda, the philosophy was that reform should arise from the civil society through a grass root movement.

It is worth mentioning that it has initiated several children related programs, it arabized the French site of La Main A La Pate for teaching science to children.

As the Agha Khan said in the Library we shape buildings and buildings shape us and this was the effect the library had on us.

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I wrote it once in the newsletter we issue in personnel why do I enjoy working at the library, I found that it has a twofold effect one related to my job and the other is related to the extracurricular possibilities that are made available which is adding to my knowledge. I said it that working in the library is a twofold experience the first side is the job and the second is what it adds to the person who can make use of the activities it carries.

The Library of Alexandria is the flambeau of hope, if not the only flambeau of hope, in the whole of Egypt, it has provided its workers a meaningful work environment, and hence have managed to extract the potential of people. In five years time, a fairly short period, it managed to realize many outstanding achievements in a short period , I found myself on the day of the celebration thinking “I was part of all this”, I had my contribution in its success”

I love this place it became a marking point in my professional life, it will always hold a dear place in my heart, and I will always be proud that my contributions along with all others have made this dream come true, we the staff of the library should be proud because in five years we have built the fourth pyramid.

This is a humble tribute that I attempted to give to this wonderful place specially that I left it to pursue a career in another organization and to an amazing man who has made this dream come true through his vision and leadership

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2 Responses to “A Dream Coming True – Building the Fourth Pyramid”


  1. 1 Atef Wadie March 29, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Dear, Dr Rafik I miss you very much and I miss your wonderful lectures and courses. I hope you are well and in a good health, and I wish you all the success in this life.
    Atef Wadie
    3 Brothers for lighting
    Egypt

  2. 2 rafiknakhla March 29, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Atef thank you for you nice words
    It was nice also talking to you last week


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