Egypt’s Reading Revolution

Inside Egypt's newest (I think) bookstore, Kalila & Dimna

This is a summer of political struggle. But it’s also a summer when the Alef, Diwan, and Shorouk bookstore chains have been pouring out fun contests, free posters, writerly quotes, events, and literary tweets, and when new publishing houses, bookstores, and newspapers have been opening.

Does this mark the beginning of a major shift toward reading—despite continued censorship? Are we trending away from English children’s books toward more Arabic? From my piece in Al Masry al Youm:

Last month, two major bookstores shut down in Oman, and a few months earlier two Dubai bookshops closed their doors for the last time. The Guardian reported last year that the UK’s independent bookstores were closing at a rate of “two a week”.

In the US, dozens of bookstores are also shuttering their windows and selling out their stock. Printed newspapers are closing so fast that websites like Newspaper Death Watch have spawned to keep an eye on the print media’s vitals.

But in Egypt, where the financial picture is arguably more challenging, bookstores, newspapers, and publishing houses are opening up.

Two daily papers have appeared since Hosni Mubarak’s resignation: Youm7 has gone from being a weekly to a daily, and Al-Tahrir appeared on newsstands in early July. Kalila & Dimna, a children’s bookstore and cultural center, was conceived and opened in the months since Mubarak was forced out of office. And chain bookstores continue to open: Alef has just opened a small branch inside the City Stars mall, and will soon inaugurate a branch in 6th of October City.

Why all this activity?

“I think, maybe, it’s hope,” says Kalila & Dimna managing partner Nermeen Magdy. “We hope for a better future for our kids.” Keep reading.