The 48th Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) was inaugurated by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail on 28 January, who asserted that books were crucial for the spread of culture and knowledge.
He also mourned the death of Egyptian poet Sayed Hegab who passed away a few hours before the fair’s official inauguration. To pay homage to Hegab, the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO) erected a life-size poster of him at the CIBF entrance.
Minister of Culture Helmi Al-Namnam, Moroccan Minister of Culture Mohamed Al-Amin Al-Sobeihi, Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa and Cairo Governor Atef Abdel-Hamid all attended the opening ceremony.
The 48th CIBF, which ends on Friday, continues to be a yearly ritual and, often, a family affair.
Under the heading “Youth and the Culture of the Future” the 48th CIBF opened its doors to the public from 28 January to 10 February in an event that this year featured 670 publishers, including 451 Egyptian, 200 Arab, 13 foreign, and six African, as well as 119 kiosks of second-hand books representing the famous Al-Azbakeya book stalls in Cairo.
Morocco was this year’s guest of honour and participated with 1,000 books and the contributions of 60 Moroccan intellectuals, poets and novelists at 26 seminars and lectures.
Thousands of people have been flocking daily to the fair, lining up in queues at its gates in order to pass through the security measures installed around the fair’s pavilions.
Most of the visitors are young people who told Al-Ahram Weekly that marketing campaigns on social media had contributed to the increasing demand for novels, especially those written by young authors.
Hossam Elewa, a university student, said that romance and horror novels were in high demand at the fair. “Most of my friends have bought Blue Hole by Shady Farahat that takes readers on a journey into the Blue Hole diving area in Sinai and Logharetm by Amir Atef, a thriller that questions whether a writer can be the victim of the characters in his books,” Elewa said.
Al-Washm Al-Abyad (The White Tattoo) by Osama Allam, a novel that tackles a love story between an Egyptian immigrant to Canada and a black girl and the ethnic barriers that face them, has also been popular. Radio presenter Ahmed Younis has managed to achieve a record by selling 10,000 copies of his first horror novel Nader Fouda.
Ard Al-Illah (The Land of God) by Ahmed Murad and Rehlet Al-Dam (The Blood Trip) by Ibrahim Eissa have both sold well. Qawaed Al-Eshq Al-Arbaeen (The 40 Rules of Love) has attracted young readers.
The fair and its pavilions have been buzzing with people, but in general intellectual activities, cultural seminars and lectures have stood empty apart from audiences that could be counted on the finger of one or two hands.
The fair’s Amal Donqol Hall has hosted seminars on youth, theatre productions and publishing challenges. Poet and translator Maysara Salaheddin said the problems theatre productions were facing included the fact that well-known actors often did not participate in plays produced by the state sector.
Theatre director Mazen Al-Maghrabi said that the lack of government financial support was the main problem facing theatre in Egypt.
Meanwhile, Hani Abdallah, director of the Al-Rowaq Publishing House, said that intellectual copyright issues were the main problems that publishing was facing in Egypt. The Al-Azbakeya kiosks at the fair, he said, included a fair number of cheap illegal reprints of books.
At the fair’s Cultural Café, a number of novels and books were reviewed. Among them was a book written by controversial author Fatima Naoot entitled A Dialogue with my Terrorist Friend.
Naoot was accused in 2014 of insulting Islam after describing the ritual of slaughtering sheep and distributing meat to the poor during Eid Al-Adha as a “massacre” on a social-networking site.
She denied that her post was meant as blasphemy, but stressed that the ritual of slaughtering sheep was harmful to animals. The Appeals Court sentenced her to a six-month suspended jail sentence.
During a seminar at the fair, Naoot was accused of “defending Sufism”, to which she responded that the man making the accusation was “reading superficially like a schoolboy”.
Reviews of historical books and the biographies of authors were also organised, along with musical performances.
AUTHORS AND BOOKS: In the fair’s Soheir Al-Qalamawi Hall, the “An Author and a Book” event was organised in which various titles were discussed. Among them was “Towards Happiness” by journalist and writer Sameh Kassem.
In the same hall, a seminar entitled “Roots of the Future” was held that reviewed a book entitled Egypt’s Workers by Omar Maher exploring the world of the workers, artisans and labourers who built ancient and modern Egypt.
A new book on the Arab League was also discussed, as well as books on terrorism and religious extremism.
The Salama Moussa Hall was dedicated to the fair’s guest of honour, with many lectures, ceremonies and musical events. The visiting Moroccan writers and intellectuals presented their country, its culture and its intellectual contributions worldwide.
Italian, French and Emirates events were also organised in the hall.
There was an audio book initiative. Mohamed Neamatallah, head of the project, said that it consisted of 11,000 volunteers from 32 countries reviewing books on behalf of the blind or those with vision disorders.
The hall also hosted the Al-Ahram Salon with authors Mohamed Salmawy and Bahaa Jahin.
Salmawy said that Al-Ahram was continuing its important role in supporting young artists and authors. “It adopted the renowned poet Amal Donqol when he was an unknown junior and others like Samih Kassem and Mahmoud Darwish,” he said, adding that the Al-Ahram Salon would be resumed in the Mohamed Hassanein Heikal Hall on the first floor of the Al-Ahram building in Galaa Street and artists and intellectuals would be invited.
The awards of the CIBF poster competition were distributed. Artist Mohamed Abdel-Fattah won the competition and was awarded an honorary certificate and a prize of LE15,000. Ten other winners were recognised for their contributions and all received an honorary certificate.
Late poet Salah Abdel-Sabour, the fair’s cultural figure of honour, was a main focus of the fair, and his poems were discussed as well as his personality and professional path. Poems by the late Farouk Shousha were also discussed.
The Egyptian Mint participated for the second time in this year’s fair in order to highlight its role, telling the public, as production director Yasser Saadeddin said, that it was not only concerned with coins but also produced medallions and presidential decorations.
The pavilion of the Kurdistan region of Iraq was visiting the fair for the first time this year. Earlier, it had not been able to participate because of the conflict in Iraq and difficult economic conditions.
Taman Shakar, in charge of the pavilion, told the Weekly that it displayed a collection of Kurdish books translated into Arabic as well as medallions, sweets and tapestry samples decorated with images of the Erbil Citadel. “This year, we are not selling these products, but we are distributing them among visitors,” she said.
Shakar hoped that Kurdistan would be able to participate in next year’s fair with more activities and that it could be guest of honour.
The Cairo Opera House was taking part in this year’s fair for the first time with a series of conferences and musical events. Inside the Ministry of Culture’s pavilion, it presented 50 translated books on opera. A series on music festivals was also provided.
Mohamed Mounir, director of Publishing and Documentation at the Opera House, said that this year the department would not sell CDs and tapes but would sell them during the period of the fair at the Opera House itself. A discount of 50 per cent would be offered.
“The Cairo Opera House is not only a venue for concerts and performances, but it also has a very distinguished library on the history of music that can compete with the one at the US Congress,” Mounir said.