As recently as a few days ago, there seemed to be a possibility that the 43rd Cairo International Book Fair might yet open this month. The fair was originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 26 at the Cairo International Conference Center, and then was postponed to the 29th following organizational difficulties.
The decision to suspend it indefinitely was made some time on the 28th, following mass protests throughout Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt.
But, in light of ex-president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, Helmy el-Namnam, deputy head of the General Egyptian Book Organization, submitted a request to Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik to open the fair. The request went directly to the prime minister, as, following the Feb. 9 resignation of Gaber Asfour, there has been no Egyptian minister of culture.
According to Al Ahram Online, El-Namnam felt that the fair would now be a reason for “major cultural celebration.”
But today the Publishers Association has asked its members to go to the conference center and begin collecting their books and other materials. Publishers in Hall 4 were told to collect their books and materials on Thursday; Halls 1,2 and 3 were slotted for Friday, and those in Hall 5 were scheduled to have their turn on Saturday.
The cancellation affects 632 publishers from 29 countries, including a number of foreign publishers who returned home without their books. British-Lebanese publisher Dar el Saqi, for instance, told Publishing Perspectives that they had to leave behind hundreds of books at the Nasr City conference center.
But the cancellation hits local publishers the hardest. For many, the Cairo International Book Fair—the largest in the region, attracting nearly 2 million visitors—has traditionally accounted for around seven percent of their annual sales. These sales are often used to invest in new releases and to pay off printing presses.
However, publishers could not leave boxes of books at the fairgrounds indefinitely, and scheduling conflicts arose: The popular Riyadh International Book fair begins March 1, followed by book fairs in Muscat, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai.