This year’s Cairo International Book Fair opened to the public on January 23, 2020. ArabLit’s founding editor took a quick run through before catching a plane; this is the fair’s second year in its new location:

The fair this year boasts 808 pavilions and 900 publishing houses. I didn’t count, but there were certainly a lot.

The entrance to the 2020 Cairo International Book Fair on the first morning it was open to the public, around 10 a.m. on January 23. Inadvisably, I came without a pass, expecting to buy a 5LE ticket, zip inside, wander around, and leave for my flight by 1 p.m. I was not expecting this sort of queue on a weekday morning at the fair’s new location, in Togomoa instead of its old haunt, the Nasr City Fairgrounds. However, the upside to this new location, for publishers, is that it means there is a much higher percentage of serious bookbuyers. The downside is that without a serious library infrastructure — and bookshops still mostly catering to the upper reaches of the middle class — books remain out of reach for many. But the book fair wasn’t really going to solve that, anyway. However, they definitely need more ticket booths.

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Without a flight, I would’ve happily waited in the queue, as it would’ve made for good eavesdropping. As it happened, I had a flight to catch, so a publisher came and fetched me in. At the entrance to Hall 1 — there were four large halls.

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Grateful to Shorouk since they’re the ones who fetched me in. They were a very large presence at the fair, and had an enormous stand for their publishing house and a separate one for their chain of bookshops. I did hear complaints from publishers and other bookshops about Shorouk, which has been a powerhouse in their combination of major publishing house + newspaper + bookstore chain.

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Notably absent was Tanmia publishing house and bookshop; they were excluded from the fair, for “security reasons.” The five-year sentence of Tanmia’s co-owner, Khaled Lutfi, was recently upheld by Egypt’s Supreme Military Appeals Court. The charges stem from Tanmia’s plan to publish an Egyptian edition of the Arabic translation of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, by Uri Bar-Joseph. Tanmia is, meanwhile, having a sale all this month.

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I’m always interested to see where crowds are massing (well, except when it’s in the foodcourt). Here, there was a long line at Dar Sama that seemed to be mostly people interested in Ahmed Younes’s new horror novel, نادر فودة 5, which, naturally, follows books 1-4 in the same series. Hardly surprising, as Younes’s books have been bestsellers at previous fairs, and the horror genre continues, anecdotally, to have strong sales. You can listen to some Ahmed Younes horror read out on SoundCloud.

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The crowds at the KFAS booth were wild. See a tweet from the publisher below about how “Egypt reads” and their shelves were wiped out. So apparently people were right to come in the morning of the first day.

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Here, publishers doing what they do at the European fairs — making deals. Also shoutout to Magdy from Adam Bookshop (still located in the Maadi Grand Mall) who was at the German booth and — since I’d forgotten my phone at my friends’ apartment — helped me locate my first meeting. I’d tried the information booths, as every year, but they looked on their phones and sent me in the wrong direction. At least that hasn’t changed.

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I do try to avoid taking photos of people’s faces without their consent, but the side-eye this reporter was giving me was irresistible.

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You have to exit Hall 2 in order to reach Hall 3 (where all the children’s books can be found), and there were food and meeting places here. Nothing iconic, certainly, like the old cultural cafe. At this point in the day, most people seemed to be purposefully walking between halls, making their lists, buying their books.

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This Chinese booth was probably the most eye-catching. According to a feature on the state-run Xinua news service, they “divided the pavilion into nine booths including educational books, tools, material as well as entertainment gifts.” According to Amro Mogheith, Arabic editor of Wisdom House Culture and Media Group: “Books teaching the Chinese language take up the lion’s share of our sales, especially Chinese Curriculum for Arabs in two parts and HSK material for beginners in learning the Chinese language.”

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Finally arrived at my first meeting, at Dar al Balsam, with publisher/bookseller Balsam Saad. She was in the children’s hall, which she said probably dampened their sales of YA a little, but was generally pleased by their noisy, well-trafficked location. She said sales of children’s books have seen a significant uptick; that parents are becoming less likely to see children’s books as an unnecessary distraction from studying, and more as a part of an engaged reading life. Balsam was a fan of the new location, which has infrastructure (a roof to keep the rain off the books! bathrooms!) that the old one lacked. She also liked the new rule that publishers’ pavilions are supposed to only have books from three or fewer publishing houses, which means fans of Balsam Books now need to find the stand, rather than buying works elsewhere in the fair. Although facing many difficulties, from the economic to the bureaucratic, the publishing house and bookstore are still thriving.

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I took a quick run through Hall 4, the home of Heritage and Islamic Studies, and — at least around noon — found it more subdued than the other halls. Although certainly still full of book buyers. Publishers were also able to display things in ways not possible at the old fairgrounds, which was generally open to all sorts of January weather. Book prices are eye-watering but not nearly as surprising as directly after the currency devaluation.

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The storytelling activities didn’t seem packed on Thursday morning, although there were a decent number of kids and generally bored-looking parents.

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Also a very serious book-buying boy with a roller bag in tow. Egyptian children’s-book publishers were all gathered in the best-trafficked area, with the foreign ones beyond.

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Since this was a more anecdotal than journalistic visit, I went to hang out with Kotob Khan’s Karam Youssef, who is standing here with (among other things) the second print run of Iman Mersal’s In Pursuit of Enayat al-Zayat, which had been sold out in many stores before the start of the fair. Mersal’s book also made Mada Masr’s excellent list of book recommendations from the fair. Like most publishers I talked to, Karam also appreciated the new fairgrounds.

Not long after this, I had to dash for a flight. I was fortunate to find a taxi outside with a woman still in the back, staring out at the line to get in, complaining that it would be the death of her.

More:

Mada Masr: نرشح لك من معرض الكتاب

The Guardian: Cairo international book fair turns away jailed publisher’s company

Xinhua: Feature: Chinese pavilion attracts Egyptians at Cairo book fair

El Balad: %الوزراء ينفي ارتفاع أسعار الكتب بمعرض الكتاب 2020 بنسبة 40

Ahram Online: PM Madbouly inaugurates Cairo International Book Fair

My favorite YouTube commentator with a preview of the 2020 fair: