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The Man Behind Rabat’s Solely All-English Bookstore

Rabat – Tucked away from the busy streets of Morocco’s capital, Rabat’s solely all-English bookstore is a hidden gem. You possibly can solely actually acknowledge the shop by a discreet signal and its enterprise hours, handwritten in each Arabic and English. It’s onerous to not be amazed by the sheer variety of books on sale, fastidiously positioned in classes similar to fiction, ladies’s research, media, or human sciences.

Muhammed Belhaj opened the bookshop in 1985. Saddened by the sudden demise of his father, he returned to Morocco from London, the place he was finishing his research. 

Belhaj, the only real proprietor of the bookstore, is initially from Fez. Born in 1941, his research took him to Rabat on the finish of the 1950s. At first reluctant to depart his hometown and town’s vibrant medina wherein he grew up, Belhaj stated his choices have been considerably restricted when selecting the place to proceed his schooling. On the time, Morocco’s solely trendy college was in Rabat, the place Belhaj studied political science.

His curiosity in politics developed on the historic second when King Mohammed V of Morocco was pressured into exile by the French colonial authorities. 

“At the moment, everybody was speaking concerning the independence and colonialism. I occurred to be in Rabat in the meanwhile when King Mohammed V was exiled. That impressed me to be taught extra concerning the society and the way it capabilities,” Belhaj defined to Morocco World Information.

That is additionally when he began studying English, an uncommon endeavor for almost all of Moroccans on the time. “I spotted that French will not be a global language,” stated Belhaj. 

“English will not be essential itself. It’s also not higher than some other language. It’s merely a reference for human information. It’s a pool of data,” he added.

Learn additionally: The English Road Faculty: A Classroom With No Roof and No Limits

He began taking English courses on the British Council in Rabat. This finally led him to London, the place he spent two years learning the language. He additionally traveled extensively all through Europe at the moment, part of his life which he considers to be notably formative.

After a long time of operating the bookshop, he seen a drastic change in the kind of clients that he sees every day. “At first foreigners, largely Europeans that didn’t converse French, got here to my retailer. Over time this has modified dramatically,” stated the proprietor. 

Younger Moroccan college college students are presently his most important clients. Belhaj jokingly added, “I feel that explains why my English has been getting rusty,” on condition that he now spends most of his time speaking to folks in Moroccan Arabic versus English. 

He additionally sells books in different languages on the retailer, similar to Spanish and German.

A photograph of the English Bookshop. The bookstore was opened in 1985 and has maintained the identical look. Picture: Nejra Kravic/Morocco World Information

The method of ordering books can sometimes be tedious, he continued. Decided to at all times make his purchases immediately from the writer versus resellers in Morocco, as a approach to assist the unique companies, Belhaj stated the import duties on international books could be fairly costly.

Learn additionally: Can Morocco Shift to Instructing in English in its Faculties?

Even with the additional prices, Belhaj is set to maintain the bookstore operating. “There’s a want for studying English. The federal government desperately desires to maintain French because the second international language, however Moroccans are increasingly more keen on English,” stated the proprietor.

He measures curiosity by the variety of folks requesting sure books. Belhaj feels strongly concerning the form of literature he has on the retailer, however can be very open to strategies from younger Moroccans. He retains monitor of every request by a buyer on a sheet of paper, noting down the title of the ebook and the creator. 

The proprietor added that his personal private curiosity in politics, anthropology, Islamic research, and Sufism finally prevails when selecting which varieties of books he sells on the retailer.

“I wish to assume that I affect what folks learn, however I additionally take discover of what they need. It’s costly to get books, so all of my choices are calculated,” stated Belhaj.

He additionally feels strongly concerning the current development of turning books into motion pictures. “I don’t go to the flicks. Ever. A film is only one interpretation of the ebook. Studying an precise ebook can provide you countless interpretations,” stated Belhaj.

He additionally makes positive to replace the classes of books that he sells. Belhaj not too long ago added a self-help and a enterprise part, seeing a rise in curiosity in literature from these fields. 

Belhaj cheerfully stated, “Promoting books will not be like promoting tomatoes.” His humor, heat, and good intentions are one thing that the purchasers like concerning the retailer, which is why they preserve coming again. When a few college college students learning English at Mohammed V College approached him with particular ebook requests, he jokingly responded with: “Promoting books to college students is so boring. They ask means too many questions.”

Learn additionally: Promoting Books in a Nation That Can’t Learn
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