And the “Diwan” library remained steadfast after 20 years, “despite the difficulties, offering a unique flavor and a comfortable sitting amid the chaos of crowds and taxi psalms, and combating the change of times with the revolution, the military coup, the suppression of freedom of expression, and the economic downturn,” according to a report it published.Washington Post“.
The newspaper’s bureau chief, Siobhan O’Guardi, believes that “the concept of establishing a library like this was considered an anomaly in Cairo when it opened in 2002, with some even warning its founders that their project was doomed to failure given the Egyptian bureaucracy, relatively low literacy rates and purchasing power.” That makes a small group can afford the books.”
At the time, libraries were usually owned either by publishing houses or the government, says Nadia Wassef, the library’s co-founder, who says in her memoirs, released last month, that “publishing houses’ books were often full of old titles and books.”
Wassef, her sister Hend, and their friend Nihal Shawky dreamed of a multilingual kind of bookstore that would allow readers to browse the work of legendary Egyptian authors, such as Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, as well as a wide range of emerging voices from across the Arab world, as well as from the United States and Europe.
Wassef and her partners also aimed to create a place where women could feel safe from the sexual harassment they often face on the streets of Cairo, and a shop that not only sold books, but also uplifted society.
The three of them quickly took advantage of the idea in light of a period when Cairo was experiencing a creative impetus, believing that the library could fill a clear gap, so they actually entered into a partnership with their friend Ziad Bahaa El-Din and Shawky’s husband at the time, Ali El-Desouky.
The project began in Zamalek, a neighborhood largely inhabited by upper-class people on an island in the Nile, and their design was inspired by international libraries such as Shakespeare and Company in Paris and Rizzoli in New York, where they displayed books in English on one side and Arabic on the other, accompanied by the establishment of a comfortable café in The middle invites customers to stay for reading or chatting.
Some Cairo residents soon realized that the library was like a crucial paragraph missing from a fine literary text.
Diwan hosted book launching and signing parties, events that until then had been rare in Egypt, which led to an increase in the library’s fame and flock to the store to buy novels, self-development books, poetry, and even cookbooks, among others.
After 9 years, the January 25 revolution erupted, launching an intellectual revolution and new writers, but the army turned against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013, and many abandoned their revolutionary dreams after a repressive campaign led by the regime, according to the newspaper.
In the midst of this turmoil, Diwan’s founders feared what the future would bring, so Wassef and her sister chose to leave the country.
Hind obtained a culinary degree in London, and Wassef moved to Dubai before joining her sister in England.
But Shawky remained in Egypt, and after taking a leave of absence from the Diwan bookstore, he eventually joined with former library employees to form a new store management team.
The Diwan library continues to adapt to the times, having opened nine branches in Egypt, including its main location in Zamalek. It attracts crowds to launch and sign books.