Journalist Ursula Lindsey may have had the honor of the peak Cairo Book Fair moment this year.
In a dispatch written for Al-Fanar Media, she writes:
There is a busy schedule of talks and seminars, although the fair’s web site is not operational and programs were so difficult to find when this reporter visited on the second day of the fair that an employee at the press center handed me one like contraband, saying: “Don’t show this to anyone.”
The fair does have a Twitter feed, @cairobookfair, although beyond the injunction to follow it, and announcements about events (happening somewhere), it’s hard to see what information can be gleaned there. It does point you over to the fair’s hodgepodge YouTube channel.
Lindsey noted a large number of new translations coming out. El Tanmia owner Khaled Lutfy told her his two most popular authors in translation were Stephen Hawking and George Orwell.
The atmosphere, Lindsey says, is subdued:
Often the book fair is marked by some small uproar—a daring pronouncement by a public intellectual, a controversial new book. Although it seems as busy as ever this year, it also seems subdued. This matches the general atmosphere of the country, which under the leadership of the military and President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has witnessed severe repressions of freedom of speech against activists, journalists, academics and writers.
I take a break to sit in one of the large tents serving tea, coffee and shisha, with a group of local writers. “The year after we got rid of the Brotherhood was great,” an Egyptian novelist tells me, referring to the book fair that took place in 2014. “We felt free. But now we feel frustrated. It’s worse than under the Brothers.”
Twitter is generally cheerful on the topic of the 2016 book fair, with plenty of photos, brief videos, author events and signings, and publishers’ deals. You can find photo galleries from Ahram Online and Youm7, among others.
There was, according to Haaretz and others, a tempest in a teacup over an Israeli book called ArabianNights.Com, by Jacky Hugi, translated from Hebrew into Arabic. The book is apparently “a nonfiction introduction for Israeli readers to contemporary social, cultural and political discourse in the Arab world,” and a parliamentarian apparently called for its removal.