Following are excerpts
from an interview with Ismail Serageldin, director of Bibliotheca Alexandria
in Egypt, which aired on Egypt TV on July 26, 2010:
In contrast to what people think, if we consider the experience of the
20th century throughout the world, we see that the regimes that ultimately
prevailed were the democratic regimes. At certain periods, it seemed
that dictatorships – whether from the far right, such as the Fascists,
the Nazis, and so on, or the far left, such as the Communist regimes
– are the ones able to implement decision quickly.
Indeed, nobody can deny
that Hitler accomplished things in Germany, and that Stalin did so in
Russia, but the price was very steep. It has been proven that societies
in which there is [public] participation, which make decision slowly,
and with a delay, are ultimately societies that survive, display forbearance,
and have managed to develop in the long run.
The well-known French
author Victor Hugo said something nice: "No army can defeat an
idea whose time has come." An idea may seem at one point totally
utopian, but after some time you see that it has spread everywhere.
When the UN Universal
Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up in 1948, it seemed entirely
utopian. In 1948, all the problems of the second half of the 20th century
were still ahead. Today, however, there isn’t a single spot on the
face of the earth where people do not talk about human rights, and demand
human rights. The idea of human rights has spread and permeated human
Thus, ideas play a major
role. In my opinion, this should be important in Egypt's path to the
future. Egyptian thinking, Egyptian culture, and the continuity of Egypt's
great historical and cultural heritage are what should lead Egypt toward
the challenges of the future.
Israel is far more advanced scientifically than us. It has outstanding
educational instaurations. But the models to which Egypt should look
in our region are two nearby countries with an Islamic majority, which
went in two completely different directions.
you referring to Malaysia?
No, to Iran and Turkey. These two countries went in two different directions,
but both have achieved great scientific progress. After the first Iran-Iraq
war of 1981, Iran felt that its regime was completely isolated, and
that nobody could help it, achieve scientific progress, so it invested
greatly in tremendous scientific research. As a result, the growth in
the fields of physics and nuclear physics... In recent years, the number
of studies by Iranian scientists in these fields rose by 700%. This
did not come about in a vacuum. There is a policy supporting this.
Likewise, Turkey had
a policy supporting scientific and technological development, and incorporating
technology in society in many industries. As you know, Turkey
has a secular regime while Iran has a religious regime, but in both
cases, there has been a huge leap in the past 20 years... Indeed, Egypt
is making progress, and I can show you statistics to this effect. But
if I walk along, while the person next to me is running, the distance
between us increases.