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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Homeless man who ran bookshop under Beirut bridge loses stock and home in fire

Source The National
Friday , 21 January 2022

A homeless Lebanese man who gained public notice for creating a bookshop/makeshift home under a bridge is mourning the loss of his collection in a fire.


“I lost my home first, and now my books … what’s next for me?” Mohammed Maghrabi said while he picked through his burnt tomes on Friday as he prepared to leave the place that has been serving as his home for months.


In early 2021, the octogenarian created a little “personal space” under the Fiat bridge in Beirut, Lebanon. After his release from a 14-month prison sentence for forgery — to which he claims innocence — Maghrabi returned to his old address Sin El Fil to find that his house had been demolished.


“I don’t like to ask for help. I’m not used to asking for help,” he told The National.


“My only solution was to create a new home without asking for help. I came to the Fiat bridge, a location that I was familiar with. I spent few days sleeping on a piece of cardboard before pursuing my plan of turning this public location into a new home that I can afford.”

 

Maghrabi had been surrounded by books throughout his life and his hobby turned into business idea that flourished when he started fixing books in his prison cell to pass the time.


On Friday, Beirut woke to the news that Maghrabi's library, stacks of books surrounding a couple of worn mattresses, had burnt to the ground.

Only a few days before, the man’s small project had gained national attention, with visitors flocking to the unusual bookstore. They were guided through the titles by the man himself, who examined the covers to make sure they met the potential buyer’s expectations.


The minister of culture even visited Maghrabi and signed one of the books in his collection.


He did not always sell the books, he said — sometimes if a person could not afford to buy something, he offered them the book for free.

 

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but Maghrabi has refused to accuse anyone of the crime, insisting that he was wrongly accused once and it cost him time in prison.

Lebanon’s declining economic situation has left hundreds of people in need this winter. Scenes of people rifling through rubbish bins looking for food or the elderly wandering the streets in the cold are becoming depressingly familiar.


The Lebanese state has no concrete plans to provide shelters for homeless people. Instead, civil society organisations and local initiatives have stepped in to ensure protection and support for the most vulnerable.


When news about the loss of Maghrabi's collection surfaced, locals took to social media, with people and pages with high numbers of followers appealing for funds to support him and to try to restore his book collection.


Maghrabi was in the Fiat bridge area on Friday, but he has since disappeared. Locals said he was being questioned by the police, as news emerged that the Sin El Fil municipality was planning to clear the space.

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