The re-negotiation of Egypt’s cultural identity has been at the forefront of the nation’s politics and media since the rise and fall of former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2012.
State-sponsored cultural events in the country have been no different. The annual 44th Cairo International Book fair had “Culture and Identity” as its crosscutting theme this January. And as the organizers, the Culture Ministry and the General Egyptian Book Organization, sought to expand the reach of the Arab region’s single largest bookselling event this year to other cities, the theme remained intact.
In Alexandria’s Mohamed Abdel Wahab Theater House, the international book fair is currently being reincarnated from February 23 until March 6. A total of 52 Egyptian and international publishers are expected to take part this year, including the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Al-Shorouk Publishing House and the Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House. This new expansion is not to be confused with the Bibliotheca’s annual book fair, which is scheduled open next month.
At Abdel Wahab Theater, the Cairo fair was adapted slightly to suit its hosting city. It has a line-up of book signings and discussions dedicated to Alexandrian writers and poets, as well as forums on the history of translation in the city.
Culture Minister Mohamed Saber Arab, who first came to office in May 2012 and resigned several times before returning to his post after the June 30, 2013 cabinet reshuffle, inaugurated the festival on Sunday.
Arab said that the state is committed to publishing books at affordable prices to the general Egyptian public. The state subsidizes its publications particularly through its ongoing “Family Library” project, which has been re-printing a selection of classic and modern works at subsidized prices since 1994. Arab also announced that the ministry is currently working on making its publications available at an average price of LE6, down from LE50. He urged private publishing houses to follow the state’s example and lower their profit margins to serve local readers.
A major development this year has been the ministry’s decision to hold exhibitions from the Cairo International Book Fair in different Egyptian cities. Alexandria was the first in this new expansion and will be followed by Dessouk, Kafr al-Sheikh in March, as well as similar fairs in Sharqiya, Mansoura and Upper Egyptian governorates in months to follow.
Since 2011, the Culture Ministry and General Egyptian Book Organization have been experimenting with sponsoring irregular bookselling events in various parts of Cairo and the country to reach more readers. One reason for doing this now is that the Cairo Book Fair happens to coincide with the commemoration events of the January 25 revolution every year.