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London’s iconic Mideast bookstore Al Saqi to shut after 44 years due to financial crisis

December 07, 2022
The bookshop became a leading light not only for Arab expatriates in the UK and Europe, but also for Arab visitors keen to obtain books banned in their own countries.
The bookshop became a leading light not only for Arab expatriates in the UK and Europe, but also for Arab visitors keen to obtain books banned in their own countries.

LONDON — Al Saqi Books, Europe’s largest Middle Eastern specialist bookseller, is to close its doors after 44 years of operation in London.

The shop will hold a closing-down sale before closing its doors on Dec. 31, Salwa Gaspard, bookshop owner and director, said while attributing the closure decision to “difficult economic challenges.”

However its publishing houses Saqi Books and Dar al Saqi will continue to operate. The legacy of Al Saqi Books lives on in the independent publishing houses Saqi Books and Dar al Saqi, which were founded in 1983 and 1991 respectively as extensions of the bookshop’s activity.

“The various lockdowns and the ensuing breakdown of supply chains negatively impacted many independent businesses such as ours. But as a specialist Arab-world bookseller sourcing our stock from the Middle East and North Africa, we also had to contend with sharp increases in Arabic-language book prices, shipping charges and exchange rates,” she said in a statement.

Lynn Gaspard, publisher of Saqi Books, said: “This will be sad news for many in our community as the bookshop has been a home for the Arab diaspora. To me, Al Saqi is much more than just a bookshop. I have grown up at Saqi: my sister and I spent hours playing among the books. It has been a privilege to run Saqi Books and to work alongside my parents. We will miss operating alongside the bookshop, but look forward to the next chapter in Saqi’s history from our new office premises in west London. Saqi and Dar al Saqi share many loyal readers with the bookshop, and we are excited at the prospect of bringing the best in new and classic writing from the Arab world to audiences in the UK and beyond for years to come.”

Al Saqi Books was founded by André and Salwa Gaspard, along with their lifelong friend, the late Mai Ghoussoub, in 1978. They had settled in London from war-torn Beirut and opened the bookshop in Bayswater to supply a then-untapped market for English and Arabic books about the Arab world.

Over the ensuing four decades, the bookshop became a leading light not only for Arab expatriates in the UK and Europe, but also for Arab visitors keen to obtain books banned in their own countries.

The shop prided itself on “an atmosphere of openness, discussion and debate, friendly gatherings and public events” in the shop itself as well as in the Kufa Gallery, an important venue for the arts in the same Westbourne Grove premises.

The bookshop has faced various challenges over the years, ranging from censorship crackdowns, smashed shop windows after the Salman Rushdie affair and during the 2003 Iraq War, and the depletion of inventory due to a warehouse bombing and a naval blockade during the 2006 Lebanon War. In July 2021, the shop basement was flooded, with hundreds of books destroyed. A crowd-funding campaign raised over £15,000 within 48 hours and garnered the support of the likes of Mary Beard.


December 07, 2022
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