Egypt: Cairo's Gold Mine of Used Books Still Offers Treasures

Cairo's Gold Mine of Used Books Still Offers Treasures

By Dr. Maged El-Bialy

Cairo's Gold Mine of Used Books Still Offers Treasures

The Soor El-Azbackaya zone is a little known bookseller area in Attaba near downtown Cairo. Almost all subjects in all languages can be found within the hundreds of ceiling-high stacks of books inside the small metal shacks run by various used booksellers. The site stretches over 200 meters of paved concrete right in the heart of the Attaba discount shopping area. Upon this concrete plateau are perhaps 90 or so metal kiosks each containing a unique and specialized collection of books, newspapers and magazines. The site is a little known area in Cairo where foreigners and Egyptians find used, rare, hard-to-get or specialized printed material. For example, a tremendous amount of books can be found on the subject of Egyptian antiquities, all at their usual below market discounted prices. As well, many of the shops feature top magazines (fashion, travel, music, business, etc) from all over the world including Japan, Germany, France and America. If you are on the hunt for a certain textbook or cheap computer manual, the Soor El-Azbackaya area will probably fill your needs. The site is also a gold mine for rare and hard-to-get books in many languages, including old Arabic newspapers covering prominent Egyptian events from decades past. "Sadek Library" which is run by Mr. Ahmad Sadek says that he has the first issue of the public newspaper " AL Ahram" and he sells it for 50 Egyptian pounds (US$12.50).

Cairo's Gold Mine of Used Books Still Offers Treasures

As I walked between the shops, I found one with an interesting name "Al Raheek EL- Makhtoom". I stopped and asked the man working there what that name meant. He said that the kiosk was named after a book written by an old Indian writer. The name was what that Indian writer called Prophet Mohammed. Shendy Ibrahim, manager of the Al-Raheek El-Makhtoom shop, told me the history of the area. Shendy said, "First this book area was in its present place but was very disorganized and it was a mess. During the construction of the Metro subway system, the government told us to move to the Hussein Hospital near Al-Azhar. Following the completion of the subway system, we moved back to this location (Attaba) but under a new organizational system set forth by the government. They supplied us with these nice shops, which as you see are really small, metal kiosks, and set forth rules and regulations by which we can sell these books. Now any person can easily and quickly find the used

book they are looking for."

Cairo's Gold Mine of Used Books Still Offers Treasures

Shendys shop contains an interesting collection of used Medical textbooks in English, as well as Engineering and Computer books. Shendy explains, "Our books come from various sources. We sometimes buy old private libraries that their owners want to get rid of. We sell to the public 75% cheaper than other libraries outside Soor EL Azbakeya. We especially attract a lot of foreigners looking for unique books on antiquities or old literary novels. I can also make a barter deal with some. They give me their old novels and pay about L.E. 2 and get another one from the shop. Often they take my mobile number and ask me to search for certain books they are wanting." Mr. Shendy has been in this job for 8 years trading, buying and selling thousands of used and new books. Within the stacked piles of books at the Al-Raheek El-Makhtoom kiosk I found some interesting rare collections. For example, a rare 1972 translation of the "1001 Arabian Nights" in four volumes can be bought for 312 LE. It was in perfect

Cairo's Gold Mine of Used Books Still Offers Treasures

condition. A six-volume set of Winston Churchills 1954 edition of "The History of WWII" can be purchased for 150 LE. I was amazed when I read the name of the author, Winston Churchill. I also found books dating back to the 1800s. I even found an old "Encyclopedia Britannica". The Attaba bookseller area also offers an interesting cultural blend whereby one seller might specialize in Koran and religious books, and just a few kiosks away sits young teenagers selling the latest fashion magazines from Europe. Another kiosk sells only computer magazines, most of them still containing the freebie CD-roms, which comes with the publication. The bookseller area is open from 10 am 9 p.m. daily. Tourist peak time is from 10 a.m. 12 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9p.m. During the evenings, the nearby Attaba area is bustling with people but the bookseller zone is always more refined and there is always easy access to view and browse the selections without a crowd. On Fridays, most of the kiosks are closed until later in the afternoon after prayers. The used bookseller site is easily reached via the underground Metro subway system. Just get out at the Attaba stop and walk up the stairs. All the kiosks are right there about

20 meters away.

Cairo's Gold Mine of Used Books Still Offers Treasures

The Soor El Azbakeya area is really a rich area full of rare books, as well as new ones. This area often passes unnoticed by tourists who come to visit Egypt which is only a couple of minutes away from El Azhar and Khan El Khalili. So, if you are a book lover this place is not to be missed.

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Last Updated: June 13th, 2011

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