Egypt: Sadek, the collector


by Sherif Awad

At Cairo’s Faysal neighborhood, archivist Mohamed Sadek found several reservoirs and spaces set in a one-way street to save his large collections of books, magazines, posters and lobby stills dating to the early days of the 20th century. Upstairs at one of the buildings, he has an office full of large volumes of books, early cinema projectors and antique telephone on his desk where he usually receives his guests of artists, researchers, intellectuals and collationers like himself.

Mohamed Sadek was born at the neighborhood of El-Darb El-Ahmar. He considers his current work not a hobby but a message he inherited from grandfather. In the old days, early 20th century, people used to call them El-Warakeen i.e. the papermen who work in everything related to paper. The grandfather used to have a store called “Sadek Bookshop” in Port-Said Street (at that time, it was called El-Khaleeg El-Masry Street) in El-Sayeda Zeinab neighborhood. When Sadek became a young man, he started to take his father’s place at the family’s shop. However, sales of second of books and magazines were not that high. And so, slowly, Sadek realized that it is better to become a collector and owner of archives of magazines, books, pressbooks and posters retracing Egyptian and Arab history in arts and politics and daily life for him to deal with organizations and not with individuals. “It was in the aftermath of the 1992 earthquake when I decided to develop my practice from a secondhand salesperson to a collector and archivist”, remembers Sadek. “At that time, the Egyptian government wanted that their officials to move smoothly in their private cars to reach any crisis location. Hence, they decided to kick us from our usual place near Al-Azhar up to the mountain near the entrance of infamous El-Batneya neighborhood”. Many intellectuals criticized this evacuation including novelists and columnists Gamal El-Gheitany and Youssef El-Kaid until we were resettled down near El-Azbakeya Garden in El-Attaba. “Once there, I tried to elevate the sales by attracting the eyes of the pedestrians through daily changes I used to make on my newsstand for it to feature a thematical variety of history, arts and pop culture”, explained Sadek who found himself becoming a celebrity guest in radio and tv programs. Many writers come to Sadek or send their assistants seeking archival information for their researches like bigtime screenwriters Waheed Hamed and Youssef Maaty, just to name a few. Also, big-time stars like Adel Imam and Youssra visit Sadek or send people to get books and magazines either featuring them few years ago or to research roles.
Sadek organized many exhibitions in Egypt and abroad. The most prominent was during the 2014 edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) when he exhibited classic posters from the golden era of black and white of Egyptian cinema in addition to pressbooks, lobby stills and even old formats of box office tickets which retraced the film industry’s different decades. Also, Sadek was invited the UAE where he succeeded to gather publications and photos retelling the 70-year history of the state of emirates until nowadays.

Sadek also has a great line of customers of film fans and collationers like himself. “My biggest sale was a one-folio size poster of Youssef Chahine’s Salah El-Deen The Conqueror which I have sold to an America guy with a prize of 1000 dollars”, reveals Sadek who is receiving customers at his downtown Cairo shop and at the many reservoirs he owns in Faysal neighborhood. “I like to sell and buy in the real world”, he explains. “I have never been convinced to post my items on sites like ebay for sales or auctions. You know why? Because it is quite an experience for a customer to come and see and feel the real thing. A photo of an item on the internet could be unreal and deceiving”.
But how Sadek is seeing himself ten years from now? He doesn’t want to sell online or to digitize his archives like most organizations and individuals do. “I hope I can deal with Egyptian organization to retrace the history of Egypt like I did in Saudi Arabia and Emirates”, hopes Sadek who is criticizing our national entities for their bureaucracy that is not providing him spaces to exhibit his memorabilia. Until things change, Sadek will be exhibiting again during the next edition of CIFF and at the UAE during its national days festivities.