December 26, 2011

AP Report on Institute Burning in Egypt an Exercise in Reality Avoidance

A month ago, Aya Batrawy at the Associated Press’s Egyptian bureau described those who ransacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo as “protesters,” and absurdly asserted in the face of contrary evidence I was able to find in about five minutes that “the historic 1979 peace treaty with Israel … has never had the support of ordinary Egyptians.”

Last week, in the wake of the burning — more like the gutting — of the Institut d’Egypte in Cairo and the destruction of and serious damage to thousands of priceless books, manuscripts, documents, and artifacts, Batrawy attempted to deflect blame to the military (which did have a role, as will be seen later) for not sufficiently protecting the building instead of placing it on the arsonists who did the damage. And of course, you’ll search in vain for any references to the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafi radicals, or Islam. I guess Batraway didn’t want anyone to get any kind of crazy idea that this “Arab Spring” enterprise which Western news outlets so gullibly embraced earlier this year isn’t exactly working out. Here are several paragraphs from the AP repoter’s dispatch (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Thousands of rare documents burned in Egypt clash

Volunteers in white lab coats, surgical gloves and masks stood on the back of a pickup truck Monday along the banks of the Nile River in Cairo, rummaging through stacks of rare 200-year-old manuscripts that were little more than charcoal debris.

The volunteers, ranging from academic experts to appalled citizens, have spent the past two days trying to salvage what’s left of some 192,000 books, journals and writings, casualties of Egypt’s latest bout of violence.

Institute d’Egypte, a research center set up by Napoleon Bonaparte during France’s invasion in the late 18th century, caught fire during clashes between protesters and Egypt’s military over the weekend. It was home to a treasure trove of writings, most notably the handwritten 24-volume Description de l’Egypte, which began during the 1798-1801 French occupation.

… “The burning of such a rich building means a large part of Egyptian history has ended,” the director of the institute, Mohammed al-Sharbouni, told state television over the weekend. The building was managed by a local non-governmental organization.

Al-Sharbouni said most of the contents were destroyed in the fire that raged for more than 12 hours on Saturday. Firefighters flooded the building with water, adding to the damage.

… Zein Abdel-Hady, who runs the country’s main library, is leading the effort to try and save what’s left of the charred manuscripts.

“This is equal to the burning of Galileo’s books,” Abdel-Hady said, referring to the Italian scientist whose work proposing that the earth revolved around the sun was believed to have been burned in protest in the 17th century.

Volunteer Ahmed el-Bindari said the military shoulders the brunt of responsibility for using its roof as a position to attack protesters before the fire erupted.

“When the government wants to protect something, they do,” el-Bindari said. “Try to reach the Interior Ministry or Defense Ministry buildings. You won’t be able to.”

In an op-ed at, Guy Bechor is refreshingly direct in delivering the ugly truth:

Welcome to Cairostan
Op-ed: Egypt’s radicals eliminating country’s connection to West, but does anyone care?

It was barely mentioned in the Israeli and global media, but the following event pertains to the whole of Western civilization: Last Saturday, violent groups of Islamic-Salafi radicals burned the famous scientific institute established by Napoleon in Egypt after its first encounter with the West. Some historians consider it the start of modern times in the Middle East.

The site, L’Institut d’Egypte, held some 200,000 original and rare books, exhibits, maps, archeological findings and studies from Egypt and the entire Middle East, based on the work of generations of western researchers. Most of the artifacts were lost forever, burned or looted.

it was a symbolic, intentional act. Those who burned the building and its artifacts meant to burn the era of logic, enlightenment, research and individualism.

This was a grave provocation against the whole of Western civilization, a desire to disconnect from science, research and modernity, while cynically using a Western means – that is, democracy – in order to take power.

One need not go all the way to blowing up the pyramids, as some of Egypt’s Salafis wish to do after they seized some 35% of the new parliament seats (alongside 40% of the Islamic brotherhood,) and there is no reason to go as far as Afghanistan, where the Taliban blew up the huge Buddha statues. The elimination of Egypt’s non-Muslim past is already here.

Anything that dates back to the Pharaohs, that is ancient, or that is Western is destined to be destroyed, and the mission has already been launched in the most symbolic manner: The outset of Egypt’s modern era, which the Salafis seek to erase, and in fact rewrite. This is a battle for writing the history of Egypt and of the Arab and Muslim world.

… All of this is happening while the confused West is lauding the new democracy established in Egypt, without understanding that this democracy is erasing the historic Egypt that was intimately connected to the West and its culture; a new Egypt shall rise on the ruins of the great fire. What we are seeing here is not a battle for power, but rather, a battle for perception, memory, heritage and historiography; that is, the writing of history.

… And who is supposed to raise a hue and cry over the burning of Egypt’s Western past? Who is supposed to be greatly disturbed by the fact that Egyptian authorities are having trouble protecting their own museums? UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Yet not much is happening there. Well, we can’t blame this organization; after all, it is preoccupied with admitting “Palestine” into its ranks.

At National Review, Mark Steyn identified something about the military’s role in the Institute’s burning which I suspect the AP’s Batrawy knew or at least suspected but did not disclose — instead, as seen above, deflecting to the opinion of a likely uninformed volunteer:

The Torch Has Been Passed to a New Generation

In Egypt, the short version of the Arab Spring is that after 60 years the Nasser/Mubarak military has decided to throw its lot in with the Muslim Brotherhood. Given that for three decades the army was largely funded and its senior officers trained by the United States, at least we won’t have to waste a lot of time on “Who lost Egypt?” analyses.

The consequences for Copts, women, Israeli Embassy staff, etc., have been clear for some time. But just as important over the long run may be the loss of historical memory. A few days ago, during the recent military crackdown, the Institut d’Egypte was burned to the ground — mainly because young soldiers either joined in the gleeful savagery or declined to prevent it. Millions of manuscripts were lost.

Batrawy’s AP story and other coverage of the Institute’s burning indeed received very light coverage, as YNet’s Bechor contended. A Google News search on “library burning egypt” (not in quotes, sorted by date, with duplicates) returned about 170 relevant results out of the 245 listed. That’s barely a blip, and in my view hardly an accident.

Meanwhile, the Arab Spring’s descent into a winter nightmare continues in Egypt — and elsewhere, mostly unreported and underreported.

Cross-posted at



  1. Where are the people who hollered and screamed like crazy when museums in Baghdad was looted after the invasion of Iraq? This is much worse and what do we get? Near silence. I guess it’s not as much fun when you can’t use it to stir anti-American and anti-war sentiments. Not to mention the medias butt kissing of the Muslim Brotherhood and the whole “Arab Spring.” Unbelievable.

    Comment by zf — December 26, 2011 @ 10:59 pm

  2. #1, really great point.

    Comment by TBlumer — December 26, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

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