Cairo book fair offers opportunity for new generation of writers

A sizeable portion of the books showcased this year were written by first-time authors or by rising writers.
Sunday 02/02/2020
Matchless opportunity. Visitors at the Cairo International Book Fair.                     (Egyptian Book Authority)
Matchless opportunity. Visitors at the Cairo International Book Fair. (Egyptian Book Authority)

CAIRO - The Cairo International Book Fair attracted thousands of visitors and book lovers seeking to make purchases, including rare volumes and limited editions at bargain prices.

The fair, one of the most important cultural events in Egypt, celebrated its 51st edition this year at its new headquarters on the outskirts of Cairo.

Senegal was the guest of honour of the fair. The event also celebrated Egyptian geographer Gamal Hamdan, who wrote “The Description of Egypt,” an important series of books about Egypt’s place in modern history.

“Fair organisers have done everything possible to avoid the mistakes of the past years and make the experience of visitors fun,” said Haitham al-Haj, chairman of the General Egyptian Book Organisation, the main government body overseeing the fair.

The event took place in New Cairo, a sprawling new urban community 40km from the city centre. This did not discourage visitors from braving traffic-clogged streets to get to the new fairground. Tens of thousands of people visited every day, organisers said.

Arab and international publishers showcased thousands of titles. A special section of the fair called Ezbakieya Fence featured original copies of old books that sold at bargain prices. The section derived its name from an old book market in downtown Cairo.

The large turnout compensates for losses publishers often sustain during the rest of the year because of declining book sales.

“This is why the fair is a very important event for us,” said Islam Abdel Mo’ety, owner of Rwafead Publishing Company. “Publishers like me wait for this cultural event year after year.”

Abdel Mo’ety’s was among 900 publishing companies taking part in the event, including 594 from Egypt.

The fair attracted publishers from 40 Arab and foreign countries, turning the event into a major venue for cultural exchange and dialogue. It comprised 808 booths on a 45,000-sq.-metre area that included space for discussions, meetings and workshops.

Some 925 cultural events were scheduled, including seminars, workshops and art shows. There were encounters between authors and readers, book-signing events and discussion forums on pressing issues on the Egyptian, Arab and international cultural stages.

Fair organisers introduced an application visitors utilised as soon as they entered. It contained location of the booth of each publishing company, as well as all titles offered.

The fair comes this year as Egypt tries to reassert a cultural leadership role in the Arab and African regions. Egypt was regarded as a cultural powerhouse in both regions for decades in the past but economic, political and security turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising affected Egypt’s cultural institutions to maintain support for young and established talents.

This year, support was manifest in the large number of young and up-and-coming writers featured at the fair. A sizeable portion of the books showcased this year were written by first-time authors or by rising writers.

Budding novelist Noha Mahmud, 30, said she has toured various booths at the fair to get an idea about available books and meet other writers. Her latest novel, “Tawfiq’s Tale,” which tells the story of a lonely man who watches the world from a distance, was displayed for the first time.

She said the fair is a good opportunity for rising authors to meet and hear from readers.

“It is a great occasion for presenting cultural productions to readers,” said Mahmud. “Book fairs bring writers to the centre of attention, which makes them of matchless value.”

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