Boussad Ouadi, a bookseller in Algiers
Ghania Khelifi - 19/06/2009
The publishing firms are the system’s gofer
You need to be from Algiers to understand the turmoil caused by the future closure of the Librairie des Beaux-Arts. This place wasn’t, since we have to speak in the past tense, a selling space for ordinary books but one of the last strongholds of a creative culture, with a global outlook. The bookshop has a history, symbols. On 21 February 1994, its manager Vincent Grau was murdered there. He was one of the few Frenchmen who resisted the threat of the armed Islamists and kept on living in Algeria. Writers such as Camus, Roblès, Tahar Djaout – who was also murdered by terrorists – haunt the library.
As soon as the press release issued by the present manager reached the newsrooms, cries broke out against conspiracy and censorship. This is also the opinion of Boussad Ouadi a bookseller and editor, who sees it as an act of retaliation against the publishing of two books written by two opponents of the Algerian regime. He doesn’t believe that the owner wants his place back for commercial reasons. In his press release he states: “In our capacity as editors, we have been muzzled, denied the right to register our copyrights and therefore of publishing, banned from all funding and supporting publishing programmes, that besides have been granted to so many professionals ”. He also denounces “faulty laws that demand to raise our social capital to two billion cents. Moreover, just recently, some procedures of the Central Bank have imposed, for each book, phytosanitary certificates, certificates of origin and compliance, further to the traditional visas by the Ministries of Culture, Religious Affairs and by the Police”. Boussad doesn’t lay his arms down for all that. He tells us about it during our interview.
The closure of your bookshop has sparked off stirred reactions among many citizens of Algiers, though this isn’t the first time that a bookshop disappears isn’t it?
Precisely, and that’s why we’re getting such massive support, which can be really touching at times. Nine bookshops have closed in the last years on Ben Mhidi street and on Didouche Mourad street (the two main arteries of the Algerian capital, editor’s note), in the utmost silence because none of the occupants complained. What’s worse, three of them were sold by ancient employees of the SNED-ENAL (an old state enterprise, editor’s note), to clothing or shoe vendors and touched a wealthy sum in the making. No official authority intervened in the transactions, nor did it deem it regrettable that these cultural spaces had changed their vocation. In Oran, Constantine, Annaba, Tlemcen, etc... we observed the same procedure.
Don’t you think that the owner is merely motivated by business?
As for my case, I don’t believe this at all. Only the future can tell what were the intentions of the owner. I think it may be tied to the fact that INAS published “Les geôles d’Alger”, by Mohamed Benichou, the former director of the daily Le Matin, recounting his 24 months in jail, and “La dignité humaine” by Ali Yahia Abdennour, President of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, consisting in a plea for the recognition of human rights in Algeria by one of the most pugnacious lawyers for the victims of political repression in Algeria. Considering all the signs of support I’m receiving, I intend to fight for my place. As one of my clients put it: “H’na Yaiche Kaci, h’na y mout. We’re fed up with dying!”*
How do you explain the disappearing of these bookshops and the scarcity of cultural spaces in Algeria?
By a total lack of vision of where the book and the bookish culture stand in the country. Political powers aren’t the only ones responsible. Teachers, parents and associations are also to blame for this cultural desert. Moreover, social stagnation contributes to the total pauperisation of the middle classes.
As for the publishing firms, they have become the system’s gofer. They live off state grants and public markets on the one hand, and the Orient’s financial godsend for religious and Islamist books on the other. Since a year now I don’t even have the right to register my books’ copyrights and I am totally banned from the purchases granted by the Ministry of Culture.
Don’t you think this situation is paradoxical? Algiers was the capital of Arab culture in 2007, who will host the PanAfrican festival this year if there are almost no bookshops?
In this sense Africa and the Arab countries, live similar situations and the apparatchiks who come to these festivals (that I also get to see in my library) are like clones. Except for the artists (if there are any!), but I don’t think they’ll take them to bookshops.
*Popular Algerian expression “Here lives Kaci, here will he die”
Translated by Nada Ghorayeb