The Institut d'Egypte after the fire.
The cost of the Arab Spring in Egypt cannot be counted only in terms of human lives – cultural landmarks have paid a heavy price too. The Institut d’Egypte, one of Cairo’s most precious scholarly archives, was burned down on Saturday. Since then, protesters and the country's military rulers have been trading accusations of arson.
French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte founded the Institut d’Egypte in 1789 after his invasion of Egypt. The building currently housing the Institut was built in the early 20th century, and contained over 200,000 rare books, manuscripts and illustrated documents. It was set alight with Molotov cocktails overnight on December 16. Following the fire, the army issued a statement accusing “drugged and rioting” protesters of being behind the crime.
The Institut d'Egypte on Saturday, after the fire. This video was filmed by our Observer.
“Militiamen were throwing rocks at the protesters from the roof of the building”
Sherif Magd El Din is an engineering student in Cairo. He rushed to the Institut d’Egypte on Saturday while the building was still smouldering.
I went to the Institut d’Egypte on Saturday afternoon after I heard what happened. I discovered a building that was completely charred and burnt. There were two groups of protesters there, some from Tahrir Square and some from the avenue of the Assembly [where a new protest camp has been erected, not far from Tahrir square]. The latter were mainly Ultras [hard-core football supporters who have joined forces with protesters] and relatives of killed demonstrators.The Institut d’Egypte is just a short walk away from Tahrir Square. Personally, I have some doubts about the official version of events, which accuses protesters of throwing Molotov cocktails into the building. First of all, there are many administrative buildings in the neighbourhood, such as the police station, that constitute a much more logical target. Why would they set fire to a cultural institution?On photos that were taken while the building was still burning, you can see “baltagias” [pro-government militiamen] throwing stones at the protesters from the roof. If authorities are so worried about protecting our cultural heritage, why weren’t the men busy putting out the fire instead?Although at this point there is no proof directly linking the authorities to the arson, the army is responsible for slowing down fire-fighting efforts [Twitter messages during the fire denounced the fact that soldiers allegedly blocked fire fighters from reaching the scene]. As for the protesters’ so-called violence: when I arrived at the scene, the protesters I saw there were calm. Violence only flared when security forces arrived and set up a barricade in front of the institute.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.