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Diwan: A Place Where I Can Peacefully Breathe Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Yara Kassem, Egypt
Citizen Journalism   Interviews


Diwan: A Place Where I Can Peacefully Breathe Because like you said earlier Diwan became like a home for a lot of people, a place where you can go on a frequent basis, you love the place so when you give any comments about it, it’s for the sake of seeing it better

4. The name Diwan is so inspiring, so how did you get to choose it?

Well, we wanted to have an Arabic name, we didn’t want anything westernized. Well, of course this place is for everyone not specifically Egyptians or Arabs but we didn’t see any use of having a western name for it.
We thought of many Arabic names at first but then we’d chosen Diwan as it means a meeting of people, like The Sultan’s diwan which Arabs used referring as the meeting of the Sultan with the ministers and so on, or a diwan of poetry which means a collection of poems.

5. Diwan became one of the most popular places for people in Cairo, being a lot more than a bookstore, being a café as well, an art gallery as well as a platform for many other cultural activities, and the thing making it more special is the way it’s impacting the surrounding community, and changing it gradually especially that culture and reading wasn’t the first priority to a lot of youth. So, do you get those brilliant ideas (café, art gallery, inviting bestsellers, etc.) randomly or it’s through a specific plan?

Well, we had in mind from the beginning holding those activities such as art galleries and inviting book sellers to discussion with their readers, musicians signing their CDs and so on, it wasn’t meant to be just a bookstore. You have to attract the people, and there are a lot of places selling books and DVDs, so we were having the intention of holding that number of cultural events. So no, it didn’t come randomly.
But after a while we got that idea of holding those sessions of story telling for kids, which is so important from my point of view, as it builds the personality of the kid and empowers his imagination, as there’s no such activities for kids ,they go to school and after school maybe to the club, so it’s only sports. And kids got very attracted by those reading sessions, they love it as they also interact with other kids through those stories, and their parents got interested as well and they come to those sessions with their kids. And then we got to attract the parents by attracting their kids, so they became more interested in Diwan and the other thing we offer. Actually, we thought we’d attract the parents’ first then get to attract their kids

6. The location of Diwan in one of the most important main streets in Zamalek, the heart of the city of Cairo is making it really unique, but, do you have the intention to open another branch for Diwan all over the country?

As I said earlier, when we first had the idea of that project we thought that location is key, it has to be in people’s way. So, when we chose this place it was a gymnasium up till 5 years ago and then it stayed closed for two years, so we approached the people and took it for Diwan.
I think that being on the main street is one of the components of success of the place; maybe if it was a couple of meters away it’d have impacted the success of the place.
Right now, I don’t think we’re ready to open another branch. Some time later maybe in a couple of years or so our operations and management would hopefully become more structured and I would like to see one other store open definitely.

7. Putting into consideration the success accomplished in the two first years of Diwan, how do you see Diwan after 5 years?

We feel we are still learning, making a lot of mistakes and learning from them. We are therefore not quite ready for a second branch. Within the next five years, yes, our operations and management will hopefully become airtight and more structured and I would like to see one other store open definitely. More than that, I don't know. We are also working on our website and I believe this is also a big step and must be in place very soon. What we do not want to jeopardize is the personal feel that we have in the store now. If we open too many branches some of that will be lost and we believe this is something you cannot replace. The friendly atmosphere, the feeling that this is an extension of your home/living room.

8. On which basis do you choose your staff? Do you require a certain criteria of people to handle the store while you’re not there?

Yes, we do have a certain criteria, they must be presentable with a minimum of English so they can at least read the titles of newspapers, titles of books and so on, and they should have the willingness to learn and acquire knowledge.

9. What were the components of success of Diwan?

It’s mainly the harmony and the mutual respect between the five partners, each one has a specific role and is committed to fulfill it.

10. I believe that falling in the trap of being a bookstore for foreigners had been one of the obstacles you’ve faced. The beautiful packaging and printed materials with Arabic fonts, the logo and the Islamic style decoration of the place shows how you’re trying to deal with this problem. Would you tell me about this a little bit?


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Yara Kassem

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Raymond M. Kristiansen | Jul 2nd, 2004
I really liked this interview. The story of how they created Diwan is inspiring, and it is good to hear how cultural centres like these, established by just a few individuals, can have have more wide-spread influence in their city or country. Good job!

Shavkatjon | Jul 4th, 2004
thanks so much for sharing this article,it gave me a bit mroe of inspiration and lots of ideas on ym work on the same thign here in Tajikistan. It is amazing that I found exactly the same vision of keeping thigns/culture alive among your friends and people..I am looking forward to learning somemore news about Diwans current state... keep up your excellent work, Shokran, shavkat

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