Bibliotheca Alexandrina sacks Youssef Zeidan

Mohammed Saad , Friday 3 Feb 2012

Novelist sacked from position as head of manuscripts centre for publishing newspaper article accusing library's director of corruption

The director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Ismail Serageldin, has sacked the novelist Youssef Zeidan from his post as head of the library's manuscripts centre.

The decision was taken on Thursday after the publication of Zeidan's article in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm in which he criticised the library's administration, especially Serageldin, whom he accused of financial and administrative corruption.

Zeidan noted particular incidents and decisions taken by Serageldin during the last month that he claimed were destructive to the library.

Serageldin stated that the article was the reason for his decision.

Zeidan told Ahram Online that Serageldin sacked him to silence him and intimidate anyone else from daring to speak out:

"I decided to write the article and publish it publicly after trying to advise him against his decisions, yet he insisted, even going exactly against my advice and hiring many people while we're trying to reduce the budget. At first I attributed the decisions to administrative confusion, but then discovered that he made these decisions deliberately, aware they conflicted with the library's interests."

Zeidan claimed he asked Serageldin to resign, who said he would do so if Zeidan also resigned. "When I immediately accepted this, Serageldin wondered why, and then refused to resign. At that point, I realised I had to publish the article, and planned an open vacation until he resigned, but instead of that he sacked me."

The saga comes only a few months after an extended sit-in by cleaning workers to protest wage and benefit inequalities. At that time, Essam Sharaf's cabinet and the library's board of trustees renewed Serageldin's contract, stating that his experience had benefited the library enormously in recent years. The sit-in led to the library's closure to visitors for several weeks until a selected number of workers were permitted to take part in future contract decisions.

Youssef Zeidan is an Egyptian writer and researcher specialising in Arab literature and heritage, and best known for his controversial novel Azazil, published in 2008, which cemented his reputation as a novelist and won him the International Prize for Arab Fiction (the Arabic Booker) in 2009. He has since published two additional novels, The Nabatean and Zel Al-Af’a (The Snake’s Shadow).

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