Amid all the uncertainty and violence happening in Egypt, I was struck by a story from Alexandria. Youths have been organising to protect Bibliotheca Alexanadrina, ‘The New Library of Alexandria’.
The young people organized themselves into groups that directed traffic, protected neighborhoods and guarded public buildings of value such as the Egyptian Museum and the Library of Alexandria. They are collaborating with the army. This makeshift arrangement is in place until full public order returns.
The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters.
A major early move by the Egyptian government was to ‘flick the switch’ and choke Internet communications. In the short term this has clearly given Mubarak and his cohort the upper-hand, by keeping the pro-democracy groups divided and chaotic. However, the short-term gain might weaken them in the future. As the the freelancer journalist Ashraf Khalil just tweeted from Cairo:
Told Nile TV that the main economic damage to #egypt is from Net shutdown (estimated $90 mill) and images of violence scaring away tourists
The stories of the Library and the net shut-down recall an old Wired article by Neal Stephenson, where he traces the paths of fibre-optic cables around the world (I actually mentioned it last December when discussing Wikileaks). Stephenson’s travels take him to Egypt, where a major new communications cable is being landed in Alexandria, at a most historic location:
If you turn your back on the equipment through which the world’s bits are swirling, open one of the windows, wind up, and throw a stone pretty hard, you can just about bonk that used book peddler on the head. Because this place, soon to be the most important data nexus on the planet, happens to be constructed virtually on top of the ruins of the Great Library of Alexandria.
Just one more reason why we are all bound up in Egypt’s fate. Let’s hope that the people who marshalled to protect their museums, are the ones to prevail.