October 26, 2016
Cairo bookstore offers a private space for screaming away fear and anger
by Kait Howard
A while back, MobyLives wrote about a new Cairo bookstore that aimed to do more than just sell books, but become a creative and social hub where freedom of expression is encouraged. Founded by Karam Youssef in 2006, the store—Kotob Khan—offered writing workshops, musical performances, and children’s programming.
The idea of bookstore as haven is, of course, a common one, perhaps even more in a country that has seen increasing police brutality and repression of free speech. At least that’s how Cairoscene put it in an unsigned article about another Cairo bookstore that has begun offering customers a place to relieve stress by screaming it out, for free. As they report, the bookshop/café Bab Aldonia has installed a completely soundproof room where anyone can go and scream in privacy for ten minutes at a time. Insulated, without any crevices for eavesdropping, the room can only be occupied by one person at a time, and there’s a drum set for banging out additional frustrations, which, Cairoscene explains, tongue in cheek, “may prove just as effective as regime change.”
The store’s founder, Abdel Rahman Saad, told Huffington Post Arabi that he decided to construct the room believing that “screaming can alleviate the nation’s collective stress and the negativity that permeates Egyptian society today.” And in an interview with Adela Silliman of Reuters, one customer extolled the virtues of the room: “When you enter the room it’s like you’ve entered a whole other world, without your phone and without anything else that can have an effect on you.”
Readers of Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue, or anyone who’s read reports of widespread torture in Egyptian jails, may see the irony in the idea that Egyptians might need to retreat to a dark, enclosed space in order to momentarily express themselves. And yet there’s something comforting in the idea, which—given the infuriating and demoralizing vitriol of the political situation in our own country—we might do well to implement in U.S. bookstores as well.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.