Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The culture of confrontation

Speaking to GEBO director Haitham Al-Hagg, Nevine El-Aref ushers in the 47th Cairo International Book Fair

The culture of confrontation
The culture of confrontation
Al-Ahram Weekly

To make room for celebrating the 25 January Revolution, the 47th round of Cairo’s hallowed annual book event (27 January-10 February) opens at the Nasr City fair grounds under the slogan “Culture in Confrontation” a week later than originally scheduled. This year the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO), the organiser of the Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF), did not hold a press conference to announce preparations for the fair, resting content with a statement of plans that it distributed to the press.

According to the statement, 850 publishers (550 Egyptian, 250 non-Egyptian Arab and 50 from outside the Arab world) represent 31 countries (21 from Africa and the Middle East and 13 from further afield), in addition to 118 second-hand book kiosks at Sour Al-Azbakeya. Bahrain is this year’s guest of honour and it will be the focus of a series of seminars, lectures, poetry readings and folk performances as well as documentary screenings.

Kazakhstan and Paraguay are to participate in the fair for the first time.The renowned Egyptian novelist Gamal Al-Ghitany, who passed away on 18 October 2015, is the CIBF’s personality of the year. In addition to Ghitany-centred events, a series of lectures and seminars are to commemorate ten years since the death of Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz.The GEBO director Haitham Al-Hagg says he is pleased that Bahrain is the fair’s guest of honour. Being the Gulf country with the oldest modern education, he explains, it has a special cultural standing in the Arab world. The participation of Bahraini writers and intellectuals will be a great addition to the fair.

Al-Hagg went on to point out that the CIBF will welcome the widest variety of trends, approaches and viewpoints with a special focus on the young. Over 300 of the fair’s ushers are university students. He stressed the presentations by France, China, Kuwait, Italy and Russia, which are large enough to be guest-of-honour presentations in their own right, adding that the publishing industry is the most important discussion topic.

In addition to the usual activities – intellectual and youth gatherings, Cultural Café and Author and Book seminars, art events, music and dance and cultural round tables – the CIBF has a hall dedicated to memories of the fair, with footage from the previous 46 rounds to be screened including poetry readings by the legendary poets Nizar Qabani, Mahmoud Darwish and Abdel-Rahman Al-Abnudi, debates with the late secular activist Farag Fouda, Naguib Mahfouz, Louis Awad and Mohamed Hassanein Heikal. A separate tent will screen material from 1986 on, on an on-demand basis, so that you might see critic Gaber Asfour as a middle-aged figure commenting on a book published 20 years ago right after publication.

“Not a single book will be banned at the fair – unless it is by court order,” Al-Hagg declared, saying the government respects freedom of expression and creativity. No pressure was put on any publishers to remove any books. On the occasion, Al-Hagg explained that GEBO had nothing at all to do with the removal of Islamic scholar Youssef Al-Qaradawi’s books in last year’s fair. It was the publisher who opted to withdraw the books following a public outcry in an atmosphere charged against the political current represented by Al-Qaradawi.

Al-Hagg expects the sales of religious books will not rise this year, in contrast to political and historical books.

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