The 2015 Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) ends tomorrow. According to Yasmin El-Beih, it’s been a packed year:
By Yasmin El-Beih
On January 28, the first day the 2015 CIBF opened to the public, 200,000 visitors reportedly pushed their way onto the fairgrounds, with up to 120,000 visiting on most subsequent days. That’s according to a statement by Ahmed Megahed, head of the General Egyptian Book Association (GEBO), on the fair website.
In Egypt, this record attendance combats stereotypes of literature and culture being only of concern to a select few “educated elite.” An extra gate was opened to the public on Feb. 7 to accommodate the high level of interest in this year’s fair, with entry lines at the main gate on prior days long enough that, on some occasions, it could take visitors up to thirty minutes or even an hour to purchase a ticket and get past security. Large groups of families, friends, and young people gathered at Nasr City’s fair grounds to eat, socialize, and stock up on their old favorites and newly-discovered titles alike.
The fair’s person of the year is the religious scholar and jurist Mohammed Abdou (1849-1905), and the honorary country is Saudi Arabia. Celebrations marking the launch of the fair were cancelled upon the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulla’s death less than a week before the fair opened to the public.
Inaugurated by Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, The theme of the fair is “Culture and Renovation”. The selection of Mohamed Abdou as the fair’s ‘person of the year’ was reportedly intended to “bring forward the Imam’s progressive values, battling extremist ideologies that have become increasingly prevalent in the Arab world…and the spread of terrorism under the name of Islam…we need to address the issues facing the Arab world today, and to build a stronger bond with [other] African nations.”
During his visit to the fair on Feb 6, Islamic scholar and Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, reportedly said, “modernization will continue [for Egypt], and it’s crucial to note the difference between modernization and reform…while reform entails that what came previously was [somehow] flawed, modernization entails that previous events happened in their time, but what was reached is no longer needed for modern-day purposes…modernization is an ongoing process.”
A roundtable discussion on “Translation in the Age of Information Technology” was held on the same day, moderated by Souheir El-Mosadafa. Dr. Mona Radwan from Cairo University’s English & Comparative Literature department, who recently translated Tawfik El-Hakim’s Revolt of the Young, emphasized the importance of the human element in translation, that an electronic medium is no substitute to the efforts of a scholar, and that a translator’s overreliance on online tools during the process is bound to prove ineffective. “[The translator] needs to be able to bring across a tasteful interpretation to his audience…the process is an art as refined as any other creative pursuit…[During my work on Revolt of the Young] I was very curious as to how [Tawfik] predicted a youth-led revolt, almost as if he foresaw the events of 2011,” Radwan told her audience.
Other events held during the fair included a seminar on the hit TV show The Women’s Prison with screenwriter Mariam Naoum, a roundtable discussion on Russian-Egyptian foreign relations, a talk about emerging literature in the Maghreb with Moroccan writer and author of the novel Window Alley Ahmed El-Madeeni, and a lecture titled “New Directions in Egyptian Cinema” highlighting Cairo’s independent filmmaking scene with directors Ayten Amin and Nadine Khan.
The fair’s Souk El-Azbakiyya tents are a stop for a treasure trove of bargains, with cheap, second-hand books on sale at a fraction of their sticker price. “You can buy three books here for the price of one at a regular bookstore,” boasts one of the vendors as I skim through a 15LE (less than $2) copy of Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love. Titles in in Arabic, English, German, French and even Russian are available in the tents’ narrow, smoky alleys. From a copy of The Invention of the Jewish People I purchased at 50LE (down from 200LE) to two copies of Ali Smith novels at less than the price of a coffee (35 LE), El-Azbakiya, like every year, remains every bookworm’s favorite spot for great deals.
Dar El-Shorouk offered its usual selection of Arabic-language fiction, history and essay collections at discounted prices, with book-signing events taking place as often as twice a day during weekends. At the AUC Press tent, I scanned displayed textbooks and Egyptology collections, which remained beyond my modest budget even at a slightly discounted price. However, I did randomly find a 5LE copy of Candide next to stack of history books. Another destination for readers of English or other foreign languages is the ‘Italian’ tent. Best discovery? All 12 copies of Critical Muslim, available for sale at the Rowayat stands.
Yasmin El-Beih is a graduated from the American University in Cairo in 2014, where she studied English & Comparative Literature, Theatre and Creative Writing.
Other views from the fair:
Ahmed Naji, Habiba Effat, and Lara El Gibaly: More readers, better designs and unlikely bargains at the Cairo book fair