Egypt Riots Threaten Cultural Sites as Cairo Library Goes Up in Flame

Experts say among the manuscripts lost are maps of Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in 1798, as well as a map used in the 1989 Israeli withdrawal from Taba.

Hundreds of rare manuscripts and maps, including the maps used in 1989 Israeli withdrawal from Taba, were destroyed this week, as rioters set fire to a library in the Cairo's Scientific Complex in the fourth day of renewed clashes between protesters and security forces.

New clashes have been raging since Friday in and around Tahrir, which served as the epicenter of the popular uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in February.

Egypt books - AP - 19.12.2011

The heavy handed crackdown on protesters demanding the ruling military council to step down and hand power to a civilian government is unprecedented.

However, another victim of the recent round of violence was a library holding some of Egypt's most precious manuscripts, maps, and books, after a fire broke in Cairo's Scientific Complex.

According to caretaker Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, the damage included irreplaceable maps dating from Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in 1798.

Haggag Ibrahim, deputy chairman of the Association for the Preservation of Heritage and member of the Higher Commission for Museums told Al-Arabiya that other casualties included maps that delineate Egypt’s borders as well as maps that played an important role in Israel's 1989 withdrawl from the Sinai city of Taba.

“There were also maps that date back to 1800 and a book written by French scientists during the French Campaign on Egypt, as well as maps of other countries,” he told Al-Arabiya.

Mamdouh al-Masry, an Egyptian archaeology professor also speaking with Al-Arabiya said the country's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was responsible for the destruction, criticizing for failing to apprehend those responsible.

“How can the SCAF allow such farce to continue until the library is consumed by the flames? How come they did not arrest the saboteurs right away?” Masry said.

Earlier Monday, Egypt's ruling military questioned the morals of a female detainee, accused a prominent publisher of incitement and bashed the media for allegedly working to destabilize the country in a new effort to crush the pro-democracy movement trying to oust the generals.

The criticism, delivered by a member of the ruling military council in a nationally televised news conference, came hours after troops in riot gear swept through Cairo's Tahrir Square, opening fire on protesters and lobbing tear gas into the crowds. At least three people were killed, pushing the death toll for four days of clashes to 14.

Maj. Gen. Adel Emara, a member of the council that took power after Hosni Mubarak's February ouster in a popular uprising, defended the use of force against protesters.

"There is a methodical and premeditated plot to topple the state, but Egypt will not fall," said Emara. "The media is helping sabotage the state. This is certain," he added.