Every Book Vendor Is Sacred

Where there are street vendors in Egyptian literature, there are police:

Photo from @salmasaid depicting Friday morning damage in Alexandria’s book market.

Novelist Salwa Bakr (The Wiles of Men, Man from Bashmour, Golden Chariot) displays a particular affection for Egypt’s ubiquitous and resilient vendors. From her story, “A Small White Mouse” (trans. Denys Johnson Davies), in which the protagonist, Husniya, tells fortunes by the side of the road with the help of a mouse:

Within a matter of seconds — she didn’t know what happened exactly — all hell broke loose. A huge gray van came to an abrupt stop by the pavement and with lightning speed policemen and officers descended from it, after which boxes of matches and tins of shoe polish, metal keys and plastic shoes, nails and shoelaces, all went flying about, blows were mingled with shouts and with people rushing about and screaming. The policemen were scooping up the wares of the vendors with dazzling speed and hurling them into the back of a huge gray van. When Husniyta saw the white mouse making a complete somersault in the air, complete with cage, then disappearing into the van, she was quite sure they must be the authorities police. She slapped her breast and screamed at the top of her voice: ‘What a calamity!’

Street art from Valencia, Spain.

And so we can imagine that something similar happened on Al-Nabi Daniel Street in the early hours on Friday morning, when Alexandria’s security forces came and apparently smashed stalls at the historic book market, Alexandria’s equivalent of Azbekeyya.

Orders for removal came from the city’s newly appointed governor, Mohamed Atta Abbas, according to Al Masry Al Youm. It was not immediately clear whether the book vendors were licensed or unlicensed: In any case, photographs show absurd and unnecessary destruction.  Do books need to be licensed to be treated with respect? Do human beings?

Al Masry Al Youm quoted a number of Cairo officials who promised an investigation. Alexandria-based activists also organized a demonstration Friday to protest the market’s destruction. They also told reporters that the kiosks had been properly licensed.

Al-Nabi Danial St. “before,” via the group Alexandria Habibti.

Prominent author and columnist Bilal Fadl tweeted about the destruction, writing on Twitter (trans. Al Masry Al Youm): “I call on the Alexandrian community to restore Al-Nabi Daniel’s kiosks, protect sellers and not destroy the heritage of Alexandria for a governor suffering from intellectual difficulties and flawed priorities.”

Fadl asked, rhetorically, if Alexandria’s new governor would dare to remove “all the floors built against the law in buildings that belong to the rich in Alexandria instead of assaulting the kiosks of the poor?”

“All the people of Alexandria complain of the spread of thugs and poor services and building violations, but I have never heard a resident saying that the Al-Nabi Daniel book kiosks should be destroyed.”

Many others also tweeted about the attack on Alexandria’s book vendors using the tag #النبي_دانيال:

@KhDesouky I hope this incident would be a wake up call to reconsider the importance of books to advance the Egyptian personality ‫#النبي_دانيال‬

@SandySabbagh And I seriously wanted to go book shopping at ‫#النبي_دانيال‬ !! I PERSONALLY OBJECT TO THIS DECISION.

@_Schehrazade_ I know this sounds crazy, but people should collect damaged books & put them back together again to salvage them. ‫#النبي_دانيال‬ ‫#الاسكندرية‬

@Beeros75 NO to Destroying books!! NO to damaging our path to Freedom. You just can’t smash a thought.Thoughts have wings. ‫#النبي_دانيال‬

@_Schehrazade_ I can’t imagine how poor university students will now be able to afford their books. Seriously a most malicious act. ‫#النبي_دانيال‬

@_Schehrazade_ Study textual scholarships &you’ll understand some of these books was worth thousands if not millions due to historical value ‫‫#النبي_دانيال‬‬

‏@nouranelsakka For me, books are more beautiful and precious than some human beings!! It is a disaster! ‫‫#النبي_دانيال‬‬ ‪‪#NAbiDaniel‬‬