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Ismail Serageldin

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Updated: Researchers rally around science advocate convicted in Egypt

*Update, 13 September, 5:15 p.m.: A new letter of support for Serageldin includes 90 Nobel Prize winners, 20 heads of state, and some 150 scholars. More information can be found here. The court will hear his appeal next week. Here is our original story from 11 August:

Scientists, engineers, and others are hoping an Egyptian court will reconsider a prison sentence given to one of the nation’s most prominent science advocates. Last week, in a surprising outcome, an Egyptian judge sentenced Ismail Serageldin, founding director of Egypt's Library of Alexandria, to 3.5 years in prison for financial misdemeanors. Serageldin has appealed the 31 July verdict, and this week more than 180 scientists, engineers, physicians, and public figures issued a declaration of support (in Arabic) on his behalf.

Serageldin directed the library, also known as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and its 14 affiliated research institutes and museums, from 2001 until he retired this year. Previously, he worked as an economist at the World Bank and chaired the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, which helps steer a global network of research facilities.

After the 2011 revolution in Egypt, several employees at the library accused Serageldin and three colleagues of misusing public funds. Of 118 charges, the judge dismissed all but three: not giving some employees enough work, improperly canceling life insurance policies, and improperly renting out cafeterias at the library. Supporters of Serageldin expected the Court of Misdemeanors in Alexandria to also toss out those charges. But the judge instead sentenced Serageldin to prison; his colleagues received 6- to 18-month terms.

In a statement posted on Facebook on 1 August, Serageldin wrote (in Arabic) that he had “adhered to all local and international laws.” Serageldin expects to be back in court next month for a hearing on his appeal. Meanwhile, he remains free.

Farouk El-Baz, a space scientist at Boston University and member of the library's advisory board, is optimistic that the appeals court will overturn the conviction. “It will be OK,” he says. “His hand is clean and his conscience is clear.”