Arab publishers participating in the Cairo International Book Fair, which was inaugurated Wednesday, 23 January, have expressed optimism on the fair despite political turmoil and mass protests that marked the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution and the verdict regarding the Port Said stadium massacre case.
Sales seemed very active on the second day of the fair, with thousands of Egyptians attending Thursday. Friday, however, was quiet. Visitors started returning slowly on Saturday and more are expected in the coming days if no major events take place.
For publishers, present political developments are less important than the economic situation in the country as a whole, and specifically how it will affect book sales. Many have also had problems with the organisation of the fair.
“I had fears before coming to the Cairo Book Fair and some of my Egyptians friends warned me off. But I got used to participating in the fair, because it’s one of the most important Arab book fair,” Usama Abu Taa, a publisher from Jordan, told Ahram Online.
“I can’t predict anything. It’s all in the hands of God. But we wish for things go fine,” he added.
Syrian publisher Ziad El-Mekhalillaty, owner of Al-Asmaa Publishing House, does not expect anything “abnormal” to happen due to the mass protests. “We expect protests but no dangerous turmoil. The fair won’t close before its fixed time. If there’s anything could happen it would have happened last year,” he said.
Ziad’s problem was that his wing is small in comparison to the rent he paid to the fair’s administration. “This is one of the most expensive fairs in the Arab world. We pay here double what we pay in any other Arab fair. Egypt’s Ministry of Culture said it would offer facilities to Syrian publishers, but we saw nothing,” he complained.
Yet for Ziad it’s still very important to participate in the fair as it works as a forum for all Arab publishers where they exchange books and make deals with Arab associations and universities.
“I had to come to the Cairo Book Fair, at least to visit Cairo. Moreover, we meet all the Arab publishers here. Cairo is our base, even if we come from different countries,” he explained.
Syrian publisher Serag Othman thinks that Egypt has passed the most dangerous phase of the revolution and is heading towards stability.
Samir El-Gendy, a publisher from Palestine, is participating for the first time in Cairo Book Fair. He had no fears regarding political conditions in the country, but did have problems with the fair's logistical preparations.
“There are a lot of problems here. Lighting is bad, there’s no wireless internet, and some wings are unclean. And I do not have a power plug for my computer too,” he explained.
El-Gendy believes that the fair will continue and sales won’t be affected by protests.
“The Egyptian people are different. At the time there will be huge protests in Tahrir Square there will be intellectuals and book readers in the fair. We have two eyes: one can cry and one laughs. Let’s say the fair is the eye that laughs.”