Security forces destroy second-hand book stalls in Alexandria

 
Alexandria’s Prophet Daniel Street (“Ennaby Daniel” in Arabic) is one of Egypt’s most well-known streets, thanks to its famous second-hand bookstalls. However, the cultural life of the street came under threat last week when the authorities dismantled a number of the booksellers’ stands in the middle of the night. Photos and video footage of the incident have been circulating on the Internet since Friday, showing uniformed officers standing around and watching as a mechanical digger destroys wooden stalls full of old books.
 
This video shows the bookstalls being destroyed by a mechanical digger.
 
The operation was carried out by local authorities on the orders of the new governor of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city. Local media denounced the dismantling of the stalls as an attack on Egyptian culture and an attempt to limit access to literature, indirectly accusing the Islamist government and Muslim Brotherhood of obscurantism. However, the minister of culture has himself criticised the destruction of the booksellers’ stands, and asked the governor of Alexandria to explain his actions.
 
Prophet Daniel Street is located in Alexandria’s historic district, an area well known for its religious diversity and rich cultural and architectural heritage. The city’s second-hand booksellers have been working there for decades.
Contributors

'We've been given no legal guarantee that an incident like this won't happen again'

Mohamed Abderrahim is a bookseller on Prophet Daniel Street. His stall was destroyed on Friday.
 
The security forces came at around 3 am to dismantle our stalls. They chose to do this in the middle of the night, so that none of the booksellers would be there to defend their property. We weren’t given any prior notice that this was going to happen, nor any opportunity to get our books back. These books are our only means of earning a living.
 
There have been booksellers on Prophet Daniel Street for years. It’s a tradition. In my family, the business has been passed down through the generations: my father was a bookseller for 40 years, and my brother and I followed in his footsteps. I’ve sold books here for 23 years. Sadly, when it comes to carrying out orders and applying the law, the security forces don’t consider the impact that their actions will have on people’s lives.
 
Le lendemain, après le délogement des bouquinistes.
 
On a more positive note, the campaign organised by local residents [a silent protest took place on Friday afternoon to denounce the destruction of the booksellers’ stands] and the outrage expressed by intellectuals and journalists were a pleasant surprise. Personally, I don’t think this is a case of the government or the local authorities waging a campaign against culture. Rather, I think that the governor of Alexandria, who only took up this position recently, went too far in applying the law which bans the display of goods in the street. The crackdown was undoubtedly targeting the city’s street vendors and open-air stalls. In my opinion, these are the actions of an amateur politician.

"We’ve been requesting permits that prove we have the right to sell our goods on the street for years now"
 
The local authorities tried to undo some of the negative publicity surrounding this incident by announcing that we would be compensated for our losses and that we could continue selling books on Prophet Daniel Street. But in a meeting that we had with officials on Saturday they ended up retracting their offer of compensation.
 
We’ve been requesting permits that prove we have the right to sell our goods on the street for years now. But there is a lot of red tape in Egypt, and the recent political instability has only made the situation worse. Everything we did before the revolution to acquire permits has come to nothing, as we’ve been told that the documents were lost or burnt. The government needs to do more than simply make statements. They must do something about our precarious position. If they don’t give us any legal guarantees, there’s nothing to say that an incident like this won’t happen again. 
 
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