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Alex 'book massacre': Crackdown on vendors or assault on free speech?

Municipal authority of Alexandria raided book kiosks and vendors on Nabi Daniel Street in Alexandria but some don't think it was a Brotherhood government attack on freedom of speech

Mary Mourad and Ahram Online , Monday 10 Sep 2012
Destroyed Book kiosks
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Unverified pictures of books strewn about on the streets or with pages torn out and small book kiosks allegedly destroyed by the security authorities in Alexandria spread all over the internet and social networks on Friday, 7 September.

Now Egyptian writers and activists are outraged, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood, which fielded the current President Mohammed Morsi, for standing against culture and books.

The municipal authority of Alexandria raided the kiosks and street sellers on Nabi Daniel Street claiming that these kiosks are not licensed and spill over onto the streets, which is illegal. The authorities removed about eight book kiosks, tearing many books. Other street sellers were also taken down.

Activists called for a protest against what they called "the cultural repression of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government." The activists considered the destruction on the Nabi Daniel Street book market a "raid on books and culture," and vowed to never back down on this matter.

There is another side to the story, however. Other activists argue that what happened in Nabi Daniel was by mistake and not a campaign targeting books, since the authorities removed and destroyed only eight kiosks out forty-some kiosks. Those activists do not think there is a war on books and culture, saying it was a mistake and was redressed after the booksellers presented their license to the authorities.

Editor-in-Chief Alaa Khaled of Amkina cultural magazine and Alexandria resident thinks that the story was exagerrated to sound like a targeted book massacre, while all street vendors inside the train station and outside Nabi Daniel Street were affected. Also, no fixed books shops were affected.

Khaled explained to Ahram Online that the vendors were causing a mess on the streets, although he sympathises with them, saying the way the sellers were forced to live is inhumane.

"No one was targeting books at all - they treated books the same way they treated other things. The book sellers were expanding outside their kiosks, spreading onto the streets and this expansions is what was removed, not the actual kiosks. The exaggeration that this targets culture isn't helping anything: this is a general brutal way to deny many poor people access to the market, whatever they sell," he argued.

"Generally, the street sellers' condition resembles a revolution of its own: they are now showing themselves and taking part in the public space, making an appearance and coming forward with their demands. By simply removing them, like the old regime used to remove opposition – that's no solution. Some 600 street sellers are similarly affected; all the way from the train station to Nabi Daniel Street," he added.

Khaled thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood would not stupidly take part in a so-called "massacre of books," especially that there were Islamic books in these kiosks. Although he agrees that these sellers needed to be removed, he says authorities could have been done in a better manner. He considers this method a continuation of the security solutions the Mubarak regime employed against social, economic and political problems.

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