January 31, 2012

The Cairo Book Fair is back


Cairo International Book Fair

The Cairo International Book Fair is back with a vengance, according to a report in the Egyptian Gazette.

Though cancelled last January due to revolution, the fair is back—and the books, as it turns out, are all about … revolution, according to the Gazeete: “Nearly all of the new books, seminars, poetry recitals, theatrical shows and performances by different troupes at the Fair, in one way or another, seem to depict and celebrate the Arab Spring and the Egyptians’ revolt.”

The Fair has coincided with the first anniversary of the revolt against the government of Hosni Mubarak. And with the continuing political tension in Egypt, many people were worried that it might be cancelled again.  ”It may be smaller, less crowded and less glamorous, but I’m really very happy that it’s back,” Khaled Moustafa, a civil servant who has been going to the Fair every year for a past decade, tells the paper. ”I doubted that it would be held this year.”

According to the Gazette‘s report the theme of revolution is predominant beyond just the books themselves:

 Besides the usual cultural activities, there is a section this year dedicated to the testimonies of the revolutionaries. Also reflecting the revolutionary spirit is the choice of Tunisia as a guest of honour this year. A group of Tunisian intellectuals and artists are participating in the Fair, sharing their country’s experiences with revolution.  Abdel-Raouf el-Gharbi, who is working in the Tunisian Pavilion, was sure that the Fair would go ahead.  ”This is what revolutions should offer their countries. Revolutions can’t stop culture and cultural activities, but rather they encourage them,” he says, adding that Tunisian cultural activity is up by nearly 30 per cent this year.

Not that the tension has had somewhat of a dampening effect: The number of international exhibitors is down from previous years. Still, 745 publishers from 29 countries around the world are exhibiting, and hoping for a strong turnout from the public. Publisher Mohammed  Hassan tells the Gazette that “religious books are still the best sellers, although the sales of political books are up this year. Political titles and books on revolutions are also among the best sellers at the AUC Press pavilion, where more than 15 titles on revolution are on sale.”

Another bookseller noted that, “this year many of his customers have been inquiring about books about history and politics, especially those dealing with revolutions around the world,” according to the Gazette.

The successful opening of the Fair holds a great symbolic importance for many. The Gazette puts it into context:

The return of Cairo Book Fair, the first major international cultural event in post-revolution Egypt, gives hope that other international events will follow.

Major cultural events cancelled last year included the International Cairo Film Festival, the International Experimental Theatre Festival, the National Film Festival and the National Theatre Festival.

We certainly wish it for them.


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.