A Brief History of the Cairo International Book Fair

Photo from @3am_Mina in late December. Tents going up for 2012 book fair.

Over at Ahram Online, Mary Mourad and Mohammed Saad have put together a short overview of the Cairo International Book Fair. I have added just a few items here and there.

1969: The first Cairo International Book Fair was held.

Early 1980s: This is when politics began to enter the fair, according to former culture minister Emad Abou-Ghazi (as reported on Ahram Online.) The followed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and the invitation of Israel to paricipate in the book fair.

1987: Israel excluded from the book fair, but demonstrations continued.

1980s and 1990s: Mubarak used the fair to promote and entrench his favored intellectual elites, according to Cairo University Professor Ahmed Zayed (from Ahram Online).

2000: Religious preacher Amr Khaled makes his first appearance at the fair.

2001: In May of 2000, at least 2,000 Islamists angrily protested Ibrahim Aslan‘s decision, as editor-in-chief of the Arab Horizons project, to re-print Haidar Haidar’s A Banquet for Seaweed. The government responded by firing a senior culture worker late that year, and, at the 2001 fair, journalists, filmmakers and writers protested that decision.

2003: Book-fair protests against the anticipated US invasion of Iraq.

2005: “On January 28 police arrested a number of activists at the Cairo International Book Fair and charged them with disseminating false propaganda against the government.” (International Freedom of Expression Exchange.)  A number of lectures were canceled, including those by regime critic Mohamed El-Sayed Said, and books, including those by poet Mahmoud Darwish, were banned.

2007: Al Ahram writer Hadeel al-Shalchi writes about visiting the fair for the first time in her life.  She’s surprised, somehow, not to find maps.

2008: Saudi preacher A’ed al-Karani, the author of the best-selling Don’t Be Sad, visits the fair.

Books banned at the fair reportedly included titles by Czech Milan Kundera, Moroccan Mohamed Choukri, Saudi Ibrahim Badi, and Lebanese authors Hanan al-Sheikh and Elias Khoury.

2009: The “cultural cafe,” where numerous writers and intellectuals had gathered, is shut down. Fair hours were also adjusted to thwart demonstrations.

2010: Algerian publishers boycott the Cairo book fair.

This was also the year that State Security confiscated Idris Ali’s last novel, The Leader is Cutting His Hair, reportedly for its criticism of former Libyan leader Moammar Ghaddafi.

Bestsellers at the 2010 fair included Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel and his Arab Theology, Alaa al-Aswany’s Do We Deserve Democracy, and Bilal Fadl’s satiric A Chagrined Laugh. A number of religious texts were also top sellers, and the Egyptian Gazette reported that those books that “had a glossy cover and were reasonably cheap” did best.

2011: Moved. Delayed. Protests planned. Mubarak makes counter-plans. Cancelled.

Substitute fairs included the Tahrir Book Fair, the Culture Corner fairs, and the Ramadan Book Fair.

2012: Opens today. Ahram Online suggests that the book fair will not see (many) protests this year. They quote Helmy El-Namnam: “This year the fair will not function as a place for protests, since now every square in Egypt is a space for demonstrations”

Meanwhile, Shorouk reports that the publishers union has declared a refusal to censor books.

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