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At the salon, Egyptians plan their future

Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany's weekly salon provides a crucial space for discussion during this time of flux. Ousted President Hosni Mubarak had suppressed such events.

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Young and old Cairenes recently packed into a smoke-filled room in downtown Cairo for famed novelist Alaa Al Aswany’s first post-Mubarak salon. The anachronistic evening was a reminder of Twitterless days when people sought face-to-face communication to talk about political concerns.

Throughout Middle East history, salons such as Mr. Aswany’s have provided forums where compatriots conspired, formed alliances, and criticized their nation’s leaders. While the author has been holding salons for 15 years, it was only in the days following Hosni Mubarak's ouster that the gatherings have revolved around the real possibility of building democracy in Egypt.

“I think there is a new enlightenment,” says 60-year-old photographer Ninette. “The gathering is very important these days because it’s important to exchange ideas.”

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As Egyptians guard reforms hard-won over the past two months and push for more change, people like Aswany are making sure there are forums to discuss the democratic transition. A co-founder of opposition movement Kefeya ("Enough") and prime voice in pushing for the resignation last week of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, his salons have been held every Thursday since Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11.

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