Cairo's historical used-books market faces displacement

Heba Ismail, Monday 9 Apr 2012

The oldest used-books market of Egypt, famous as Azbakeya Wall, has been displace many times over the last 3 decades

Azbakeya book market

Egypt’s most famous second-hand book market, Sour Al-Azbakeya, (Azbakey Wall) has witnessed many of the modern transformations of the old city of Cairo, leading to the market displacement a number of times; first move happened with the establishment of the second phase of Cairo’s underground metro line, then during the excavation for Cairo’s historical wall, and finally with the third phase of Cairo’s metro line.

This time, however is different, because the risk isn't coming from metro line construction, but the expansion of the mosque adjacent to the market, the thing that ignited the anger of the owners of the old and rare book shops of the market, although the new place would appear to be meters away from the current one.

The owners and booksellers says that the new place isn’t clean or prepared to house Egypt’s largest and oldest used books market, furthermore none of them is ready to move his workplace for maybe the 5th time in 3 decades.

Harbi, a bookseller at the Azbakeya Wall, told Ahram Online that he has been working in this career for 28 years, and is just sick of being forced to move his workplace every couple of years and wandering whether this is bad management or bad intention. “In the past we used to say this was a rotten planning, but now after January 25 revolution, the situation should be changing. If they should move us,  then at lease they should wait for completing the construction of the third metro line, which is underway right now, and there would be a clear view to the planning of the neighborhood so that they do not need to move us again.”

The whole problem started when the management of the mosque tried to takeover the plot of land that houses the market to serve its expansions. The mosque itself was moved from its original place and was rebuilt on a smaller plot of land beside the market and now they seek to expand it. From their perspective, the only plot of land valid for the establishments is the market land since there's no metro line directly under it so they can use concrete to build the mosque.

Book sellers met with the government officials to discuss the issue but the officials told them that they have no choice but to accept the decision. Sellers were determined after the meeting not to come out of their shops even if they used force against them, as they have all the legal licenses to be there.

Mohammed Ibrahim, a bookseller, said that he’s not against the displacement but they should find another plot of land that would be appropriate for a “books market” , as it turned now the new location is a closed place, where no fire fighting cars would be able to enter in case a fire broke out.

“We received many promises from state officials, but they never keep any of them. We don’t have the luxury to move at our own expense. They say they’ll give 1000 EGP to each bookshop. Well, let me give them the 1000 EGP and wait to see how they’ll move the books with this little money. Last time we moved it cost us 23.000 EGP,” Ibrahim explained.

Used books sellers of Azbakye Wall that represent a landmark in Cairo's landscape, are insisting on staying at their current location, but what will happen to them next remains the question.

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