It was meant to be the library that recaptured the glories of Alexandria, providing a new home for the world’s knowledge almost 2,000 years after its predecessor was burned to the ground.

But whereas the old Egyptian library offered a rich diet of philosophy and history to the greatest thinkers of its age, including Euclid, Archimedes, and Herophilus, the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina is attracting harsh criticism for serving up very different fare. A row has erupted over the decision to build a food court at the heart of Egypt’s self-proclaimed “window on the world,” with critics accusing the Bibliotheca’s trustees of selling out the library’s venerable legacy for short-term profit. Among the charges levelled at the £135m Bibliotheca, which opened seven years ago, is the accusation that secret plans are being hatched to allow McDonald’s to open a branch inside the complex, and that the library is putting brash consumerism ahead of serious scholarship.

Library authorities have denied the claims, insisting the food area is needed for the annual influx of 800,000 visitors.

Six firms have got licences to open stores in the food area and the library insists McDonald’s is not among them. Sharif Riad, PR director, said the court was sensitively designed with no logos visible.

But in a country that has seen multinational corporations proliferate rapidly in recent years the library’s assurances have left many unconvinced. Commentators link the invasion of brand names into Egypt’s most sacred cultural institution with broader ties between capitalists and politicians and the ensuing corruption scandals.

“I don’t know why everything promising, everything good, in this country must be destroyed by the government ...with their greed and cooperation with the businessmen,” said Zeinobia, a prominent blogger. Ismail Alexandrani, behind a 5,000-strong Facebook group vowing “cultural resistance” to the food court, wrote: “This is about money, money, money.”

The library’s building costs have also been criticised as a misuse of resources in a country with widespread poverty. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

More In: Comment | Opinion