Egyptian readers mourn ALEF bookstores

 In the Cairo International Book Fair, the oldest and largest annual literary gathering in the Middle East, there is one conspicuous absence this year. ALEF, one of the regulars with a huge stand in the past, is no longer there to offer books from small publishers and budding writers. The bookstore chain closed the last of its 37 branches on Dec. 28 after allegations that it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

For Cairo’s bibliophiles, ALEF was a book lover’s paradise: a good and varied selection of books, good prices and good salespeople with a knack for finding requested books and suggesting new ones to suit customers’ taste.

“I was no great reader until I stepped into ALEF and met a salesperson who, after a few minutes of chatting, handed me a book on metaphysics, my great interest,” one reader, a college graduate, told Al-Monitor. She did not want to give her full name like others interviewed, worried about speaking positively on a bookstore linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. “After this initiation, I just kept going back for more
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