|Address:||31 Mohammed Mahmoud St., 1st floor; across from AUC main gate, next to Cilantro (map)|
|Website:||Facebook page: مكتبة البلد|
|Bookstore Hours:||9:30am-11:30pm; Fridays 3pm-11:30pm|
Al-Balad Cultural Center first opened its doors at its current location on Mohammed Mahmoud St. near Tahrir Square in 2007, the same year Omar Bookstore opened around the corner. Originally a more left-leaning bookstore, as well as one that served the thousands of American University in Cairo (AUC) students across the street, al-Balad underwent a series of major changes in 2011. The changes followed two significant events: AUC’s move to New Cairo, and the Jan. 25 revolution, particularly the violent clashes and attacks on peaceful protestors in November of 2011 on Mohammed Mahmoud St., just steps from al-Balad. At the height of the clashes al-Balad took on an entirely new role and became a field hospital for the ongoing revolution. As the clashes died down, the multiple owners of al-Balad had to decide whether to shut down their now bankrupt bookstore or to try again. Thankfully they voted for the latter. By introducing some key new employees, including current manager Maged Atef, and a new vision of the bookstore, the owners were able to turn around their sliding profits and have managed to hold on thus far, though business is still sluggish.
What you’ll find here:
Finding this store can be a bit tricky if it’s your first trip. Look for the Cilantro across from AUC’s main gate and enter the building to the left of the restaurant. Climb up to the first floor, turn right, and you’ll find the door to the air-conditioned, neat, and ordered bookstore, complete with a small café perfect for an afternoon cup of tea and to study with friends. The café overlooks Mohammed Mahmoud St and brings al-Balad more profits than do book sales, according to the store’s manager Maged Atef. As its name implies, this small bookstore strives to do more than just sell books and aims to be a meeting place for authors, intellectuals, and general book lovers. Building on its previous activities before its 2011 revamping, al-Balad continues to host plenty of book release parties and signing parties (the room holds about 50 guests), and in 2013 the store was starting up a film club to meet on Tuesdays at the bookstore for screenings of movies in Arabic or with Arabic subtitles (check to see if the film club is still meeting).
As for books, al-Balad has expanded from its original, leftist, socialist bent and offers a bit of everything, from politics to literature, history, children’s literature, and even a small English-language section, though this bookstore still stays away from stocking religious books. Al-Balad carries works from more than 30 publishers, and they have the most of the usual suspects for literature: Merit, Shorouk, Dar Elain, Oktob, Dawen, Madbouly, Nahdet Misr, etc. Arabic literature is arranged by genre, though they could be better organized, and most new releases and bestsellers greet you in the front room as you enter the store. This store doesn’t have a large number of copies of any one title since they currently lack a storehouse, which means what you find in the store is what they have at that moment. If you can’t find the title you’re looking for, ask at the front, as the employees are often able to locate a copy for you, whether from their own shelves or a nearby store or publisher. If you’re a regular customer here, take advantage of their loyalty card program; ask for details when you pay for your books. Al-Balad also looks out for their regular customers by having a small, knowledgeable group of employees who go out of their way to anticipate their regular readers’ needs, stocking in advance titles they think will interest their regular readers.
Last updated: August 2014