What’s Wrong with the Cairo International Book Fair?

Image from YearinCairo.Com.

Zeinab al-Mansi and I asked around—hey, what do you think of the government-organized book fairs?—and got a number of different answers. We asked both about the smaller fairs in Faisal and al-Gezira and about the forthcoming megafair, and were told: It’s not well organized; its new location isn’t ideal; it isn’t well advertised; it should be run more professionally, like the Abu Dhabi fair. You can find the whole writeup at: “Many small fairs don’t make up for lost Cairo International Book Fair.”

But Ahmed Saleh, head of the General Egyptian Book Organization committee that organizes the various fairs, had a different worry. He said that the International Book Fair, which generally attracts around two million attendees, was only welcoming to elites.

“The Cairo International Book Fair is… one way to demonstrate the level of local publishing and intellectual production on the international scene,” Salah said. “In the past, we focused on promoting a specific image of Egypt; yet locally, we expected the people to come to us. This is changing though; and the Faisal fair is one step toward prioritizing greater local outreach. From the comments we got from local community members, it seems that the Cairo fair is perceived as an elitist event that they rarely visit.”

Salah blamed the limited sales at Faisal on publishers and seminar moderators. “We organized the fair at Faisal to target the average Egyptian. But many of the panel and seminar moderators were unable to communicate with the local community members attending, as their educational backgrounds and interests were very different from the usual audience at the Cairo fair.”

The al-Gazira fair, from the publishers’ point of view, was even less of a success.

There certainly could be more “pop lit” events at the CIBF that appeal to a wider public: children’s books, funny authors. Why not have Suad Amiry come speak to a big audience? Promote it well, and who wouldn’t enjoy that? But, on the other hand, the Faisal fair did have a range of events that—if welcoming and well promoted—could have been interesting to many different audiences.

I’m afraid that, for  me, it goes back to organization.

Also: If you’re in el-Ma3di, the AUC Press and Adam Bookshop are hosting a small fair today on the grounds of the Community Services Association.

1 Comment

  1. it all boils down to organization of course, and sincere effort from the organizers to host “real” events and “real” authors. I hope this changes and we stop seeing only the establishment-approved authors/events/topics in the CIBF next year. I don’t think it’s “elitist”; this is a fair we’ve all been going to since childhood. There’s something there for everybody. Even if you just want to spend a day in a garden and not be bothered with books.

    Many felt the Faisal fair was a bit vague, and the location itself wasn’t really “downtown”, i.e. accessible to everybody.

    I believe even if the new location of the CIBF wasn’t ideal for publishers, people would still come. We’ve seen a major rise in reading and book-buying after the revolution. And the revolution itself introduced the idea of books and reading to new-comers (school and university students), who are starting to hear about certain authors and topics and are buying (and hopefully, reading!) books to know what is this all about 🙂

    And as the saying goes, build it and they’ll come 🙂

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