CAIRO: Seventy percent of the books and manuscripts were damaged in the fire that engulfed the Scientific Complex on Saturday amid clashes in downtown Cairo, according to Saber Arab, head of Dar Al-Kotob and the committee formed to measure the damages.
"With the naked eye, I believe around 10 percent of the books are sound, 20 percent can be restored and 70 percent are totally damaged," Arab told Daily News Egypt.
Arab said they will only accept help from national bodies, such as the Ministry of International Cooperation, after they received offers from a number of different organizations and entities.
Sheikh Sultan Al-Qassimi, ruler of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, offered to pay for the restoration of the Scientific Complex.
According to Arab, Sultan added that he possesses a number of rare documents, maps and ancient manuscripts in his library that he offered to deliver to Egypt.
In a phone in on Al-Ashera Masa’an talk show, Sultan confirmed that he wants to repay part of Egypt’s favors to the Arab world.
Arab said that they received offers from UNESCO, the library of the American Congress and the Egyptian Ministry of International Cooperation.
However, Arab said he currently cannot request any help until there is a final report on the damages.
"When we will request help, we will ask the national authorities like the Ministry of International Cooperation to provide us with what we need," he added.
When the Egyptian Scientific Complex, an old building housing thousands of ancient manuscripts, caught fire, the original copy of the "Le Description de L’Egypt" that was kept inside the building was burnt to ashes.
"It is not the book alone. We lost a large number of rare manuscripts, essential atlases, books about Sudan and others about the traditions of Egyptians around the country in addition to the minutes of the meetings of the administrative board of the complex," Arab said.
Dar Al-Kotob, which is now organizing rescue efforts led by specialized book conservators and involving the library’s staff of conservators, received Monday morning four cars loaded with nearly 12, 000 manuscripts from the Scientific Complex.
This move was to complement the role of the library in gathering the complex’s books.
"Every now and then the armed forces tell us that the conditions are stabilized enough for us to go search for more of Egypt’s historic books under the ruins of the complex," Arab said.
He added that the armed forces deliver the books to the library and a group of the library’s employees looked for books under the wreckage.
"Also some protesters call us if they find any book or document that was inside the complex," he said pointing out that it is difficult to retrieve the books due to the ongoing clashes.
Arab said that Dar Al-Kotob is salvaging the books through two steps.
"There are some books, documents, records and manuscripts that are totally damaged and unfortunately cannot be retrieved. For those we can work on, we start by drying and sterilizing them in dry vacuum packing bags to reserve it from mold," he said.
The second step, Arab said, is to start restoring the books to their original form.
"We use specialized restoration labs for this process, but we cannot start doing it before collecting all the books we can," he added.
Minister of Culture Shaker Abdel Hamid affirmed that Egypt possesses three original copies of "Le Description de L’Egypt," one at Dar Al-Kotob, one at the Geographic institution and an uncompleted copy at the University of Assiut.
"It is hard to know if we have other original copies of the various manuscripts as we are still searching for a database that documents such things," Arab said.
He added that there is supposedly a digital copy of the manuscripts.
"The digital copy will not save the effort to sort out each book and recollect it," Mohamed Hassan, a restoration researcher at the National Library participating in the salvation of books, said. "We are exerting unbelievable effort to recover the books."
Although, Arab said that Dar Al-Kotob is still preparing a list of the immediate supplies needed in the salvation process, volunteers said they are in need of some materials in large quantities.
The needed supplies include goggles, masks, medical non-latex gloves, fans, extension cords, vacuum sealed bags, garbage bags, newspapers, plastic crates, aprons or lab coats and hundreds of meters of linen.
"The vacuum sealed bags are of extreme importance right now. We need to use them to transfer the slightly wet books to a dry place to stop the development of any mold," Elena, from Bulgaria, who is volunteering to sort the salvaged books that have been handed over to the library, said.
"It is extremely important to find a company which will sell or donate these bags in bulk," she added.
"We need supplies more than people. At the end we are only three or four volunteers working with Dar Al-Kotob’s team of conservators and a group of specialists," she said. "But in a few hours we might need help to register supplies or organize things."
Elena added that the conservators are also ready to purchase the materials if required, but that they need to be delivered as soon as possible.
According to Elena, the first 24 hours are crucial to save the books. The supplies could be delivered to Dar Al-Kotob’s headquarters.