Zein Abdel-Hadi, was dismissed from his post as Chief of the National Egyptian Library and Archives (NLA), in May just days after the appointment of the new Minister of Culture, Saber Arab.
The decision led to considerable turmoil, with some employees holding demonstrations outside the NLA's headquarters in downtown Cairo. Some staged a sit-in, then a hunger strike, at a time when Arab was promising Abdel-Hadi that his contract would be renewed.
Soon afterwards, however, statements were given by Arab that the causes of Abdel-Hadi’s dismissal were "shameful."
Ahram Online: What really led to your dismissal from the role of NLA chief?
Zein Abdel-Hadi: Allow me first to speak about the conditions of work at the NLA. It is not really about this particular institution but about all state institutions and their condition. I worked a long time in management, and can tell you there is no real political will for change. If you look for example at illiteracy, nothing serious has been done since the 1960s.
I realised that there was a security statement about allowing the April 6 Youth Movement into the NLA, while, in fact, I received everyone, including the [Muslim Brotherhood's] Freedom and Justice Party and nobody ever complained. I never received inquiries from Emad Abou Ghazi [the minister who appointed him], and had only one dispute with the previous minister Abdel-Hamid regarding a concert for revolutionary figures, but it was cleared right away.
I went to NLA to end the demonstrations I heard about, and assured the minister that I was not leading the demonstrations, and he renewed the promise that my contract will be renewed. But nothing happened.
AO: There were statements about a security report and a report from the Administrative Monitoring Authority due to which your contract renewal could not be completed. Do you have some idea what are the content of these two?
ZAH: Suddenly, now I hear about a security report due to which the contract cannot be renewed, but really, where was that report been when I was first appointed? Why did the minister have to wait two weeks to speak about it? My only relation to security has been the request to appoint a consultant from State Security to the NLA to avoid the hassle of security delays with every document we sign.
However, there was one issue soon after the Scientific Institute fire when we received an offer of help from Dutch authorities, but until now we have not received a single machine from what was promised for the restoration. On the financial monitoring report, there was a small challenge due to my employment part time while I worked full time, but it still declared my salary at a little more than LE10,000. There is accusation that I spent LE3 million, that is the money to reform the Scientific Institute, while we actually used only one and a half million and returned the rest. In parallel, there was a promise to raise the wages of employees by 30%. The additional compensation for the employees for the effort on the Institute documents was signed by Saber Arab himself before leaving.
AO: How do you respond to statement that you sacked employees originally appointed and close to the Minister, Saber Arab, when he was in this role before retirement? Also, we were told that you employed a number of people from Helwan university, and now they're being called the Helwan Village gang?
ZAH: Not true, I didn't sack a single employee. And regarding Helwan university employees, let me tell you there are in total 4 of us, myself and one other person were appointment by Mr.Arab himself, while I appointed 2 others in technical positions, and they were chosen during a set of interviews by a committee. They weren't even academics at the university.
AO: so what do you think has been the reason behind the dismissal decision?
ZAH: I honestly don't know and it's not for me to answer really. I never had trouble and have nothing to defend. But I don't think this would have happened during the previous minister's presence.
AO: There were some claims regarding opening files on corruption charges that could involve Arab. Can you tell us a little about this?
ZAH: I'm not sure about these claims. There was indeed an issue related to the contract for reconstructions of the fourth floor halls, but that was being dealt with without pressing charges.
AO: given the value of what's inside the NLA, do you think some have benefit of retaining old guards?
ZAH: This is true for all of Egypt and all the institutions. I had requested an inventory for the manuscripts and going to start the inventory for the documentation. At the storage of the NLA there's a disastrous condition. But it's also true that Saber Arab did many reforms, and all were related to the National Archives.
What I was trying to do is for the National Library which is a different entity. The law managing the NLA is different to that managing the Bibliotheca Alexandrina as the NLA is granted more autonomy in theory. But as it is state owned and run, it suffered like all other state institutions. I always wondered why the Bibliotheca was so strong and independent, and it was mainly because of the protection of Suzanne Mubarak. Although also a library, it was treated differently. The number of daily readers at the NL is 70, while there are 2500 employees. In France, there are 7000 readers per day. I wanted to reach that new standard.
I am very willing to have a direct open discussion with the Minister to find out his perspective and to close this matter.