The 47th edition of the Cairo International Book Fair opens Wednesday under the theme of “Culture in Confrontation” and is scheduled to conclude on February 10.
No less than 34 countries are expected to participate, including Arab and African states such as Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Oman, Palestine, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Qatar and Eritrea.
In addition, Italy, Russia, Azerbaijan, India, Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Greece, China, Kazakhstan and Paraguay will be represented at the fair.
The fair is usually a widely visited event and according to the Egyptian State Information Service, “Up to 850 publishers will participate, including 50 foreigners, 250 Arab and 550 Egyptian publishers.”
However, it is not yet established whether President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will inaugurate the event but according to Ahram Online, “There is no planned meeting between the president and intellectuals.” This meeting is a tradition initiated by former president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in a popular revolution in 2011.
With regards to this year’s theme, Haitham El-Hajj Ali – chairman of the General Egyptian Book Organisation – said that “culture is the main solution to the problems of society and the firewall against extreme ideas.”
The theme is in line with President Sisi’s recent efforts to “reform religious discourse” in the country in light of the rise of extremist ideas fueling terrorism in Egypt and across the Middle East.
Every edition of the book fair selects a “person of the year,” which in 2016 is the iconic author and former editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Akhbar Al-Adab (“Cultural News”) Gamal el-Ghitani, who passed away in October of last year.
While the guest of honor of this year’s book fair is the small Gulf nation of Bahrain, regional powerhouse Turkey has not even been invited. This reflects the frosty diplomatic relations between Egypt and Turkey, which deteriorated after the ouster of the Turkey-backed Egyptian president Mohamad Morsi in 2013.
Furthermore, Al-Hajj said that the fair intends to uphold the long tradition of not inviting Israel to participate and reject all forms of cultural relations with the neighboring country over its occupation of the Palestinian territories – deemed illegal under international law.
A number of seminars will also be held in commemoration of the ten-year anniversary of the death of the seminal Egyptian writer and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. And for the first time, poetry by Syrian Nizar Qabbani, Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish and Egyptian Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi – all of whom are deceased – will be presented at the fair.
23-year-old physical therapist and bookworm Menna Barakat tells Egyptian Streets that the book fair is “something I wait for every year,” adding that “it has a special magic with all the books and events; it’s refreshing with the mix of old and new thinking.”
The Cairo International Book Fair, which was first established in 1969, is the oldest and most extensive book fair in the Arab world. It is held at the Cairo International Fair Grounds in Nasr City, close to al-Azhar University and is widely considered the most significant event in the Arabic literature publishing community with visitor numbers reaching around two million every year.
As is the case every year, a number of new exciting releases are expected to coincide with the fair. Among them are “Fodool al Qotta” (“A Cat’s Curiosity”) by Egyptian novelist Ghada Abdel Aal and the debut novel “Kol al-Ma’arek” (“All the Battles”) by Jordanian short-story writer Ma’n Abu Taleb.
Unfortunately, the fair’s website is currently blank.