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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 18:38 GMT 19:38 UK
Famous Egyptian library reopens
A windsurfer sails past the new Alexandria library
The space-age looking building sits on an ancient site

The formal opening of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, rebuilt on the site of the original destroyed by fire in the 4th Century AD, has taken place.

A firework display at the library's opening
Spectacular fireworks heralded the opening of the new resource
The ceremony was attended by the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, and some 3,000 dignitaries from around the world, including France's President Jacques Chirac, President Carlo Ciampi of Italy and Greece's President Costas Stefanopoulos.

In addition, people in the city were quite literally dancing in the streets outside the library.

It was a proud moment for Egyptians and was marked with lavish ceremonial.

Books banned

It was the end result of 12 years of labour and $120m in expenditure, designed to resurrect the glories of the ancient world's most celebrated centre of learning.

Inside the library at Alexandria
Officials admit controversial books may only be a acquired slowly

A library first stood on this site two-and-a-half-millennia ago, and gave lending rights to the likes of Archimedes and Euclid.

The founding declaration of this new Library of Alexandria speaks of encouraging a spirit of critical inquiry.

But in Egypt the religious authorities have banned a number of books, even including one by the Egyptian winner of the Nobel prize for literature, Naguib Mahfouz.

The library director, Dr Ismail Serageddin, says that the banning goes against the spirit of learning in which the library was rebuilt.

"The mission of this institution is really to be a place of dialogue and tolerance and understanding and rationality - a space of freedom for all the cultures of the world," he said.

Pragmatism

In fact, a later check of the library's Mahfouz collection revealed the volume we were speaking about was not there.

Senior officials admitted that such difficult books would be acquired only slowly.

The library would, they said, honour the principle of freedom of expression.

But, with feelings already running high over the Palestinian intifada and over Iraq, a degree of pragmatism, even of stealth, was required so as not to offend increasingly radical religious sentiment in Egypt.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Wood
"It is a proud moment for Egyptians"
See also:

16 Dec 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
24 Sep 00 | Middle East
03 Jun 00 | Middle East
07 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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