El-Abbadi and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina


We will never cease to write keenly about Alexandria and its renowned Library, for the history-changing contributions the city and its Ancient Library bestowed upon humanity are fathomless. This Library of Alexandria witnessed the marriage of the Pharaonic and Greek civilizations, as well as other civilizations such as the Persian, and gave birth to the Hellenistic civilization three centuries BCE. It created knowledge and made it accessible to the whole world, until, in the early first century, its beacon faded.

Two millennia later, the Library of Alexandria was resurrected to reclaim the mission of its predecessor. The revival of the Library of Alexandria was a pioneering idea by Alexandrian Professor of Greco–Roman Civilization, Mostafa el-Abbadi. Professor el-Abbadi obtained his PhD from Cambridge University in 1961; then obtained professorship from Alexandria University in 1972; in the same year, he was appointed Head of the Greco–Roman Civilization Department. During 1976−1979, he was the Vice Dean of the Faculty of Arts for Student Affairs.

El-Abbadi held several posts in national and international institutions. For example, he was a member of the Institut d'Égypte, the Head of the Archaeological Society of Alexandria, a member of the International Association of Papyrologists in Brussels (Belgium), a member of the American Society of Papyrologists in New York, and an observing member of the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences. He was also a member of the preparatory committees for the revival of the Library of Alexandria project, a member of the High Committee of History and Antiquities at the Supreme Council of Culture, and a member of the Permanent Committee for Monuments.

How did the revival idea start? In an interview with an eminent Egyptian magazine, Prof. el-Abbadi said “It all started in November 1972, during a public lecture to which I was invited by Dr. Lotfy Dowidar at the Teaching Staff Members of Alexandria University Club. I said that, if Alexandria University wanted enlightenment and enrichment of academic and intellectual knowledge, it had to establish a library, which was not possible when the University was inaugurated due to the War. Alexandria University Vice-President and Professor of Engineering and Architecture, Dr. Fouad Helmy, was enthused by what I had said. As a result, this lecture was the very first building block of the project; Lotfy Dowidar, Fouad Helmy, and I started to search for possible sites for implementation. We eventually chose the current location of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina because it was larger than the Quta Exhibition Area and was owned by the University”.

“Years passed and no action had been taken due to the circumstances of the country at the time; in the early 1980s, however, we raised the issue once again. In 1984, Alexandria University President, Dr. Farid Mostafa, assigned a three-member committee to study the project feasibility. The committee included Dr. Lotfy Dowidar, Dr. Mohsen Zahran—as Dr. Fouad Hemly had passed away and the committee had to include a professor of engineering—and myself. UNESCO required an official letter from the Egyptian Government to consider the project proposal. Here came the role of an unknown soldier, Dr. Mostafa Kamal Helmy, former Minister of Education, who informed me that some ministers thought the Government should not seek UNESCO’s help to establish a library. Yet, he asked me to draft the letter and said he would convince the Ministers Council to address UNESCO.

To our surprise, UNESCO took the project seriously and sent two experts in the field of libraries from France and Switzerland to meet the committee. The experts asked us about the status of libraries in Egypt; hence, I issued an evaluation of the most significant Egyptian libraries: the Cairo University Library, the Egyptian National Library and Archives (Cairo), and Al-Baladia Library (Alexandria).”

Since then, international efforts have interwoven to revive the Library of Alexandria. In October 1987, there was an international call in five languages to support the project; and in 1990, the Aswan Declaration announced the launch of the project’s implementation. While the BA is celebrating its 15th Anniversary, the eminent Professor who incepted the notion of reviving it bids us farewell. Professor el-Abaddi’s memory is as eternal as that of the BA; he will remain a shining star in its history and his name will always be attached to this great project. Our utter gratitude and appreciation go to our venerated Professor el-Abbadi.

This article was first published in print in SCIplanetSummer 2017 Issue.

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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