On December 17, 2011, I witnessed on TV, as millions of people did, flames engulfing an important archaeological building, which I know very well. It was surrounded by boys throwing stones and Molotovs (petrol bombs) at it. I heard a reporter saying, “The Egyptian Scientific Complex is burning.” I was overwhelmed with mixed emotions (astonishment, surprise, fear, sadness and bewilderment), all flooding the heart at the same time.
• Astonishment that the building was burning and no one was trying to extinguish the fire… how and why?
• Surprise that this scientific building was targeted in particular.
• Fear about retrieving the scientific treasures, which were being gutted.
• Sadness about the loss of these scientific valuables, while they were burning on TV.
• Bewilderment, as I couldn’t talk to the officials of this complex, which made me contact a talk show (Al Asherah Masa’an), at 10 o’clock in the evening, on Dream channel.
I could not wipe away the sorrow, so I attempted to assure all who had felt what I felt to announce my readiness to rebuild the Scientific Complex at my own expense. I will provide the original books and manuscripts, as most of them are in my private library. This dedication is not grace, but a gesture of thankfulness we owe to Egypt.
The complex is etched in my memory, as I was its member a long time ago. I know its contents and possessions, which are unknown even to the people nearest to this complex. It is counted as one of the oldest and most important scientific institutions not just in Egypt, but also in the entire Arab World.
The Egyptian Scientific Complex is located at the intersection of Kasr Al-Ainy with Sheikh Rehan St near Al Tahrir Square, Cairo. It is the first scientific academy in Egypt founded by Napoléon Bonaparte during the French Campaign in Egypt.
The first time the complex assembled was on August 24, 1798, chaired by Gaspar Monge. This building preserved 200,000 books, most of whom are very rare, relating to the history and geography of Egypt. It also had administrative documents that date back to the French presence in Egypt, in addition to posters and various scientific English and Dutch books.
One of the rare books preserved in the complex was the original edition of “Egypt’s Description,” of which 1,000 copies were made. Bonaparte took a decision on November 22, 1799, to assemble all works of the scientists, who took part in the French Campaign, in one book titled “Egypt’s Description.” These scientists were spread out in different branches like the French Scientific Complex, including Mathematics, Physics, Natural History, Political Economy and Literature and Arts.
The complex was a beehive of activity between 1798-1801, which could be due to its members, a majority of whom were luminaries in the scientific and art fields.
There were 11 members in the Mathematics section: Napoléon Bonaparte, Louis Costaz, Joseph Fourier, Etienne Louis Malus, Gaspar Monge, Antoine Francois Andreossy, Michel Ange Lancret, Nicolas-Antoine Nouet, Francois Marie Quenot, Jacques-Marie Le Pere and Charles Dugat.
Other 11 members in the Physics and the Natural History Section were: Claude Lois Berthollet, Rene Nicolas Dufriche Desgenettes, Deodat Gratet de Dolmieu, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Adrien Raffeneau Delile, Jules-Cesar Savigny, Hippolyte_Victor_Collet_Descotils, Antoine Dubois, Pierre Joseph de Beauchamp, Denis Samuel Bernard and Jacques-Pierre Champy.
There were six members in the Political Economy, including Louis Marie Maximili en Caffarelli du Falga, Jean Lambert Tallien and Louis-Alexandre de Corancez. Meanwhile, there were 9 in the Art and Literature section: Vivant Denon, Jean-Baptiste Lepere, Henri-Joseph Redoute, Charles Norry, Jean-Constantin Protain, Louis Ripault, Andre Dutertre, Jean-Michel de Venture de Paradis and Michel Rigo.
The operations of the complex ceased after the French Campaign left Egypt to return again in 1836 under the title of “The Egyptian Assembly” thanks to French, English and German scientists. Then it was moved to Alexandria in 1859, where its named changed to “The Egyptian Scientific Complex”.
It was working under the patronage of Saeed Basha, Deputy Sultan, where there were a big number of scientists including the German botanist George Auguste Schweinfurth, Auguste Mariette and Gaston Maspero. In 1880 the complex was returned to Cairo and in 1918 it was put by a sultanate decree under the care of the Sultanate Palace.
As per the internal law of the complex, the number of members consisted of 50 scientists living in Cairo. It also appointed honorary members of up to 100 and unlimited numbers of foreign reporters.
Those who burnt the Egyptian Scientific Complex indeed do not recognise how big a sin was committed in the memory and history of the homeland.