Tunis International Book Fair highlights principles of individual rights, equality

The fair, which took place April 5-14, included literature from national and international publishers, as well as NGOs and civil society.
Sunday 14/04/2019
Visitors look at books at the 35th International Book Fair in Tunis, April 7. (Tunis International Book Fair)
A bet on the future. Visitors look at books at the 35th International Book Fair in Tunis, April 7. (Tunis International Book Fair)

TUNIS - Thousands of people flocked to Tunisia’s 35th International Book Fair, which was host to more than 300 publishers from 23 countries.

The fair, which took place April 5-14, included literature from national and international publishers, as well as NGOs and civil society.

“Books are the best medium to reflect the issues and concerns of society,” Tunisian Cultural Affairs Minister Mohamed Zine el-Abidine said at the fair’s opening ceremony. “This year’s theme — ‘Individual Rights and Equality’ — translates the most discussed issues of society today.”

The annual fair is a highly anticipated event for many Tunisians. For this year’s event, the organising committee, headed by Tunisian writer Chokri Mabkhout, prepared a rich cultural programme for both adults and children.

The fair’s theme was emphasised during public panels and lectures featuring specialists from various different disciplines. Mabkhout said the cultural programme’s theme often addresses a pressing issue in Tunisian society.

“In 2017, the theme was ‘Democratic Transition’ and last year we tackled the issue of women’s rights,” he said. “Because the programme is not of academic nature, it seeks to open a space for debate between experts and audience. There is no point of having a fair that is alienated from the issues of its society.”

In the years following the “Arab spring” uprising in 2011, the fair struggled to attract previous levels of participants and visitors but, this year, the fair regained some of its past acclaim, drawing a large number of publishers, rich content and a record number of visitors. The fair was attended by 50,000 guests April 9.

“The fair has seen remarkable progress and it will continue to improve with time as more publishers come back,” Mabkhout said. “Books have commercial value but they have intellectual, symbolic and cultural value as well.”

The fair set up cultural and artistic programmes alongside its numerous bookstands and attempted to take its message to the streets of Tunis.

“This programme gave a celebratory aspect to culture as the fair transformed into a small festival inviting people in the streets of Tunis to join the celebration of books,” Mabkhout said.

“We bet on children for the future and we need to work on awakening their curiosity for knowledge with these activities,” he added. “Bringing an international flavour to the children’s programmes — inviting Poland and Indonesia — is meant to familiarise children with different colours and tastes of culture so they can be open to the world.”

The fair was an opportunity for publishers from different parts of the Arab world to meet and discuss their sector, particularly the effects of new technology.

“The issue of publishing in Tunisia and in the whole Arab world requires special attention,” said Mohamed Salah Maalej, president of the Union of Tunisian publishers. “Today the world is interested in electronic publishing, which should be reconsidered in our sector.”

The Tunis book fair invited its visitors to participate in various campaigns and competitions for adults and young adults. The competition — “We Read to Become More Beautiful” — sought to change stereotypes of body image among young people.

“I wait for the fair every year,” said Amina Said, a 22-year-old student. “Books are becoming more expensive and we can’t always find the variety we get at the fair.

“For me, it’s been a tradition since I was a child to save money specifically for the fair. This year, I managed to find a number of books I was looking for and I’m happy about that.”

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