Casablanca book fair draws crowds

Moroccans still devote less than 2 minutes a day to reading, 134 to TV
Friday 19/02/2016
Attendance at the Casablanca book fair was high, readership in Morocco is still low.

Casablanca - The 22nd International Publishing and Book Fair (SIEL) kicked off in Casa­blanca with the United Arab Emirates as the guest of honour, boosting histori­cal and cultural ties between Mo­rocco and the Gulf state.
More than 650 exhibitors, in­cluding publishing houses, govern­ment agencies, institutes, univer­sities and civil associations from 45 countries, are taking part in the book fair, which runs February 12- 21.
There are 350 new Moroccan ti­tles among tens of thousands of books exhibited at SIEL, which offers more than 130 activities, including thematic roundtables, retrospectives and re-creating missing cultural symbols as well discussions between the audience and writers.
This year’s fair focuses on the Moroccan experience in education, translation and literary and intel­lectual research, symbolically pay­ing tribute to Moroccan researchers and authors in recognition of their contributions to the promotion of the country’s culture.
Long queues at the ticket offices were clearly visible, which showed Moroccans’ rising interest in the book fair.
Moroccan author Muhammad Ali Haider said the fair is one of the rarest cultural events that relink Moroccans with books as reading is not the average Moroccan’s choice pursuit.
Morocco ranks 162nd in read­ing, according to a report from the UN Development Programme. The budget dedicated to promoting reading is a mere 0.03% of the state budget and there is one public li­brary for every 130,000 inhabitants in the country.
A study by the High Commission for Planning (HCP) in 2014 revealed that Moroccans read less than 2 minutes a day and spend 134 min­utes watching television.
“Moroccan readers only find out about the latest book releases when they come to the fair because the media is not playing its role as it should do,” Haider said.
“In Europe, printed and visual media give literary criticism a huge importance, which is some kind of free advertising for the latest re­leases in the market. We lack such a thing in Morocco.”
Haider blamed educational insti­tutions and the Ministry of Culture for not doing enough to promote reading among Moroccans.
“Substantial money is spent on music festivals while finan­cial funds are needed to promote reading among both children and adults,” Haider said, calling on the ministry to help state schools take students to the book fair.
“State school teachers used to instil the love of reading into their students by asking them to swap their own books and write summa­ries. Nowadays, this trend is quasi-absent as most teachers see educa­tion as a means of earning a living rather than a profession of high moral character,” Haider stressed.
He expressed pessimism about the future of reading in Morocco unless everyone concerned, in­cluding schools, parents, media and government institutions, played their role efficiently and ef­fectively.
Some exhibitors at the book fair, such as Dar Al Masar publishing house, tried to do their part by sell­ing books for as little as 5 dirhams (52 US cents).
“We set these prices in order to encourage people to read,” Said El Bouri, owner of the publishing house, said. “Children’s books are the best-selling items in my stand.”
There is more interest in chil­dren’s and religious books than any other types of material.
“Interest in religious books is not unusual at the fair,” said writer Jawad Mdidech.
“The problem with most visitors is that they mainly come to SIEL to hang out. Those who are into read­ing look for books throughout the year,” he noted, adding that easy access to information and e-books on the internet and tablets was also taking a toll on printed books.
France is participating in SIEL as part of the France-Morocco Cultur­al Season organised by the French Institute of Morocco and the em­bassy of France in Rabat. About 50 lectures, meetings and debates in­volving more than 40 novelists, es­sayists, researchers, bloggers and cartoonists from both countries, are scheduled to be part of the fair.
“In a tormented Mediterranean, when terror strikes every day many territories and throws on the roads of exile thousands of men, women and children, it is important to al­low writers to speak, to think this new state of the world, to fight against the confusion of minds, for shared culture to prevail over the [culture shock],” said a statement from the French Institute.
German poet Volker Braun, who won the 2015 Argana prize by Bayt Achiir (the House of Poetry) in Mo­rocco, received his award during a ceremony at SIEL.
“Volker Braun has remained faithful for half a century to the es­sence of poetry, with verses in tune with their time, radiant with hope, always in quest for balance in a troubled world,” Bayt Achiir said in a statement.