UAE publishers steal limelight at Cairo International Book Fair

Nearly 750 local, Arab and international publishers participated in the fair, regarded as Egypt’s most important cultural event.
Sunday 03/02/2019
Exhibitors from the Sharjah Institute for Heritage at the Cairo International Book Fair. (Hassan Abdel Zaher)
Present with a mission. Exhibitors from the Sharjah Institute for Heritage at the Cairo International Book Fair. (Hassan Abdel Zaher)

CAIRO - The Cairo International Book Fair marked its golden jubilee this year as one of the oldest cultural and book events in the Arab region amid strong participation by publishers from 35 countries.

Despite constraints facing publishers by the internet and digital publications, the event attracted many visitors. The UAE booth stole the limelight with dozens of titles reflecting the country’s heritage as well as its cultural and religious role in the region.

“We view our participation in the fair very highly,” said Fadel Hussein, the head of the Sharjah Book Fair section at the UAE booth. “The Cairo International Book Fair is unique and enjoys huge importance on the Arab cultural stage.”

The Sharjah Book Fair was one of several UAE exhibitors, some of which participated in the Cairo event for the first time. Others have been travelling to Cairo for years as part of the UAE’s general cultural outreach policy.

Nearly 750 local, Arab and international publishers participated in the fair, regarded as Egypt’s most important cultural event. The Arab League was the guest of honour this year.

Taking place in the Fifth Settlement, a sprawling new urban community on the outskirts of Cairo, the fair aspires to reinvent itself as part of Egypt’s pursuit to regain a leading cultural role.

Contributing to the large turnout was that the fair took place during school holidays. The Egyptian government offered free transportation to those visiting the fair from various parts of Cairo.

“More and more people are showing up for the fair every day,” said Egyptian novelist Youssef al-Qa’eed. “This shows that distance and road hassles do not dim people’s love for reading.”

Nevertheless, difficulties facing the publishing industry loom large. Rising printing costs, expensive raw material including paper and ink and the lack of effective copyright laws can cause publishers to incur huge losses.

“The publishing industry is in danger,” said Mohamed Rashad, the head of the Arab Publishers Association, an independent guild of publishers in the Arab region. “These are problems that need the intervention of Arab governments to check the deterioration of the industry.”

In the UAE booth, the Sharjah Book Fair and other public institutions promoted their work and advanced the Emirates’ cultural agenda, which is driven by reforms in religious discourse to spread awareness about true Islam and draw attention to the country’s heritage.

Important UAE cultural institutions, such as the Mohammed bin Rashid Holy Quran Printing Centre, the Sharjah Institute for Heritage and the Al Muwatta Centre introduced dozens of new titles at the fair.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Holy Quran Printing Centre produces 6 million copies of the Quran every year. The centre aspires to raise the number of copies to 15 million annually, said Mohamed Abdel Monem Rashwan, the centre’s head of commercial development.

“The design and the fonts of the holy book copies we produce are totally different from the ones available anywhere in the world,” Rashwan said, adding that copies sold quickly for that reason.

Selling out also were other titles brought in by UAE publishers, including a book on rules regulating the issuance of religious edicts by official religious institutions and another on the sayings of Prophet Mohammad.

The books were published by Al Muwatta Centre, a semi-official research body that hopes to produce the next generation of moderate religious scholars and leaders.

Like other UAE cultural institutions, the centre went to Cairo with a message that manifests itself in the nature of the titles it is showcasing.

“We have a mission, namely spreading moderation and eradicating extremism,” said Mohamed Shakir, the head of the centre’s section at the booth. “This is why most of the books we are bringing here stress that mission.”

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