Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Cairo Book Fair opens

Nevine El-Aref highlights outstanding happenings at this year’s 49th Cairo International Book Fair, which opened this week

Cairo Book Fair opens
Cairo Book Fair opens

Two days after its official inauguration by newly appointed minister of culture Ines Abdel-Dayem in her first mission holding Egypt’s culture portfolio, the 49th Cairo International Book Fair welcomed visitors this week. Algerian minister of culture Azzedine Mihoubi, along with cultural figures from across the Middle East, attended the inauguration of this year’s Fair under the heading “Soft Power… How?”

Mihoubi expressed his gratitude for Algeria’s being selected as this year’s guest of honour, asserting that this reflected the value of cooperation and strong friendship between both countries. Algeria had participated this year with more than 70 publishers presenting 4,000 titles and bringing 20 Algerian writers to the Fair in order to help make Algerian culture better known in Egypt, he said. 

The opening also witnessed the signing of a protocol between the ministries of culture in Egypt and China. The protocol allows a Chinese publishing house to use PDF copies of 5,000 books published by the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO) in Cairo.

Two days after the official inauguration, thousands of people were flocking to the Fair, lining up in queues at its different gates in order to pass through the security measures installed around the different pavilions. According to a statement by head of the GEBO Haythem Al-Hag, the number of tickets sold during the first two days had come to more than 650,000, in addition to those who had entered with free invitations.

He said the number of visitors on the first day had reached 300,000 and increased on the second day to reach nearly 350,000 visitors. Meanwhile, the sales of books had increased by 16 per cent over last year. “If the number of visitors continues on the same level throughout the Fair, it will exceed the expected five million,” Al-Hag told the Weekly.

Walking through the display halls, the variety and sheer number of Arabic books available was impressive.

Algeria has the largest pavilion in the main display hall, and it has a major presence outside it. A series of seminars, lectures, concerts, poetry readings, films and folk performances as well as documentaries on the history of Algeria and its art and film movement have been organised. 

Algeria is also honouring Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine, whose film Djamila l’Algérienne (1958) (Djamila – the Algerian Woman) celebrated a great Algerian freedom-fighter, and actor Ezzat Al-Alaili, who took part in such Algerian films as Ahmed Rachedi’s Tabunat al-Sayed Fabre (1983), as well as luminaries like cultural figures Gaber Asfour, Zahi Hawass and Ahmed Said.

The crowds belied the stereotypical view of Egyptians as a people who do not read, with only the privately educated élite being bookworms. The Fair was filled with people from all walks of life, even if the majority roamed the grounds without buying any books, many seeing the Fair as a cheap family outing or as a kindergarten for the children until they finish work.

Most book-buyers were to be found in the pavilions. The largest crowds were at the open-air theatre performances and the indoor plays and concerts and in the children’s zones where children were drawing and having their faces painted or attending puppet shows.  


PUBLIC REACTIONS: Cairo resident Abanob Saliba and his wife Mariyan were very pleased with the Fair’s children’s workshop, in which children could indulge their painting talent. They were also happy because the area dedicated to it was larger than last year.

Mona Hussein, a teacher in a primary school in Cairo, said the children’s section was much more efficient than last year and described it as a children’s fair in the Book Fair itself.

Noha Sayed, a housewife, was very pleased that the Fair was honouring the memory of the late Egyptian actress Shadia through screening many of her films, among them Ala Defaf al-Nile (On the Banks of the Nile). The film was a Japanese-Egyptian co-production and was the first collaboration between the two countries in cinema.  

“As a book lover, roaming around the Fair was a tremendous experience,” said Salwa Murad, an accountant at an auditing company. She went on to say that at the Souk al-Azbakeya section of the Fair she had been overwhelmed by the old posters, magazines, and long-discarded novels with love messages scrawled inside their covers. “I am a sucker for that kind of thing,” she said. 

Mariam Al-Biyali, another professional, said the Souk Al-Azbakeya was the best place to buy books because it offered everything cheaply. She only took issue with its poor organisation, which she said bordered on chaos. Book vendors, she said, were using their voices to promote their wares, giving the impression of being at a vegetable and fruit market. People were also picking up books, taking a look, and then throwing them back on the tables without respect.

For the first time in the history of the Fair, salespersons from most publishers were to be found throughout offering readers recommendations on books and various discounts.

The Cairo Diwan bookstore was offering a fixed price of LE90 on English young people’s bestsellers. It was also offering a 50 per cent discount on books by prominent Arab writers on philosophy, politics, and religion.

Al-Sharouq publishing house had attracted attention with its 20 per cent discount on books by renowned Egyptian novelists such as Radwa Ashour, Alaa Al-Aswani, and Youssef Zidan. It also offered a collection of various books at the low prices of LE10 to LE20.

The AUC Press bookstore triggered the attention of Fair visitors who read in English with its magnificent collection of limited editions of signed books by Egyptian author and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

For those who wanted to read books, but did not know how and what to select, the “Aseer Al-Kotob” (Book Juice) company was at the Fair to help. Its tent was near the entrance, and on it there was a sign saying “spread your wings and develop.”

Aseer Al-Kotob is a small bookstore owned by young people from Mansoura who have created their own publishing house. Ahmed Farouk, one of the Aseer Al-Kotob founders, described the company as a cultural movement aiming to help young people in selecting different types of books, especially those that would provide them with information to build up their knowledge in different fields, illuminate their minds, and broaden their culture.

“Our message is delivered through our participation in local and international book fairs and our bookstore in Mansoura,” Farouk told the Weekly. Among the books Aseer Al-Kottob was suggesting were novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid’s Al-Eskendareya fil Ghayma (Alexandria in a Cloud) and Jordanian writer Ahmed Khairy al-Emary’s Al-Seera Mostamera (The Biography Continues).

Farouk said that the 49th Fair was the fourth time the company had participated, and it was offering a discount of 20 per cent on its books. It was also providing a new service for clients to review all the books sold called “Aseer Bot.”


OTHER GUESTS: The activities of the Fair will continue until 10 February, as it examines the different meanings of its slogan “Soft Power… How?”

It will honour the names of Egyptian singer Shadia and poets Zakaria al-Heggawi and Ahmed Fouad Negm, among others, by naming venues after them. It will also celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mahfouz’s Nobel Prize, the 120th anniversary of the birth of author Tawfik al-Hakim, and the 100th anniversary of the birth of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. 

A children’s book fair within the Fair occupies a large pavilion, while Al-Azhar is also participating for the second year, with its Islamic Research Centre providing 100 new titles. With an eye on younger people, the Egyptian Union for Electronic Games is participating for the first time. 

Al-Hag said that this year the Fair was being organised not by GEBO alone, but also by the ministry of culture as a whole, including its Cultural Palaces, National Library and Archives, and Fine Arts Sector. 

Cultural Palaces director Ahmed Awwad said a “tremendous programme” had been put together, with performances from singers Halayeb and Shalateen among other highlights. National Library director Ahmed Al-Shoki also announced the reprinting of the turn-of-the-century Al-Gamia magazine and a new competition for best heritage book. 

The ministry of youth and sports is also participating with a concert, while the ministries of education and higher education are holding reading weeks towards the end of the Fair to coincide with the start of the second academic term.

According to Adel Al-Masri, head of the Egyptian Publishers Union, books will be available at a 30 to 40 per cent discount throughout the Fair, thanks in part to a five per cent reduction on pavilion fees. Al-Hag expects there will be five million visitors this year, an increase of one million over last year.

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