Security forces attacked and destroyed the famous book stands and kiosks in Nabi Daniel Street in Alexandria Friday to the outrage of the book sellers, public intellectuals and political parties.
The police, national and local, as well as civilian protection units marched into the street, which is famous for its used books market, with bulldozers and cleared away the stands and kiosks.
“I’ve been on this street since 1956 and we’ve witnessed many regimes and presidents, some of which respected culture, until we ended up with [former President Hosni] Mubarak’s corrupt regime when the municipality’s campaign against us started and they started removing books which we held on to because they are Egypt’s culture and tradition,” Hussein Mohamed Hussein, a used books vendor on Nabi Daniel Street, told the Daily News Egypt.
Hussein added that he and his peers thought that the 25 January 2011 uprising that ousted Mubarak would bring an era of change in how the government deals with them.
“Then the elected president came and we were shocked to see the books being trampled on at the feet of the police which not even the most corrupt of regimes dared to do,” he said.
The Governorate of Alexandria ordered the stands and kiosks removed on the grounds of being unlicensed, blocking the road, and causing traffic congestion.
The attack came against a background of a government campaign against street vendors of all kind nationwide and during the first week of new Alexandria governor Mohamed Atta Abbas’s term.
Ibrahim Swellam, another book vendor, told the Daily News Egypt that all the kiosks actually have licences. He asserts that the vendors obtained licences during the term of former Alexandria governor Mohamed Abd El-Salam Mahgoub.
“Mahgoub made these kiosks for us and they were paid for by the governorate budget even. Since then no one bothered us until now,” said Swellam.
The attack has provoked outraged reactions from several forces. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party released a statement condemning it, claiming the Muslim Brotherhood government is trying to eliminate sources of cheap knowledge and culture to keep citizens ignorant.
The Creativity Front, a group dedicated to defending art and culture, said it would organise a demonstration in protest on Friday 14 September in Alexandria.
Major General Khaled Gharaba, assistant interior minister for Alexandria security, told the Daily News Egypt he knows the value of these books very well and that the move was not an attack on culture, as many public intellectuals were quick to label it.
Rather, Gharaba told the Daily News Egypt he was merely following orders as he had received eviction decisions from the governorate for some of the kiosks due to their lack of licenses. He added that only 15 kiosks and some floor stands were removed while the rest were left alone.
Additional reporting by Hanaa Abu El-Ezz