Embracing Tunisia at the 2012 Cairo Book Fair

Yesterday, I roamed the grounds of the Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) with photographer Yasmine Perni; insha’allah the fruits of our visit will be available soon on the Egypt Independent. The one place where I took my own photos was at the Tunisian pavilion, way at the back of the fair in a building that (at first) I had thought was under construction.

Tunisia is this year’s guest of honor at the CIBF, although it’s not particularly obvious as you walk the fairgrounds. (Egyptian author Youssef Rakha writes here about his search for the Tunisian presence.) Nonetheless, while the Tunisian display was rather tucked away, the Tunisians who staffed it — particularly Tijane Zayed — were jubilant at their reception by Egyptian fair-goers.

Several major Tunisian writers also visited the fair, including rising star Kamel Riahi and acclaimed author Arousia Nalouti. Riahi has been an interesting commentator on literature and uprising, and noted at the CIBF — according to Ahram Online — that Tunisian literature since the revolution had become a sort of “hasty literature.”

He felt high-quality writing needed priority now as much as ever: “It’s better to read a good story about insects than a poor novel about Palestinian suffering…Poor literature only strengthens the values of ugliness and stupidity fostered by oppressive regimes…Literature must side with beauty even if it’s speaking differently than the rest of the crowd.”

Over at the Tunisian pavilion — which was, once one found it, quite a pleasant if smallish place to visit –Tijane Zayed said Egyptian visitors weren’t so interested in Tunisian books this year. Instead, most people were “looking for the revolution,” he said, and many wanted to photograph themselves with one of the large displays, particularly with Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi. (Yasmine and I had our picture taken with him too, why not?)

Some of my (awful, oh well!) photos:

So people stood here and had their picture taken with al-Shabbi. Indeed, taking your photo with various revolutionary icons seemed to be one of the major sports of the fair.

A bilingual Arabic-French children's book about the uprising in Tunisia.
The displays here were very pretty. It seemed quite quiet to me, but Tijane assured me that "many, many" Egyptians had sought out the Tunisian pavilion.
"The people want..."

I missed the main shot at the entrance, but never mind, I know Yasmine got it.