Cairo book fair planned during Ramadan: Good or bad idea?

Marwa Mohie El-Din, Sunday 26 Jun 2011

Publishers are divided over the wisdom of plans to hold a book fair in Giza during the holy month of Ramadan in August

Ahmed Megahed, head of the General Book Organisation (GBO), issued a statement confirming GBO's intention to organise a book fair in the holy month of Ramadan; to start 5 August and end 20 August in Faysal Street, Giza. Debate about the event has started already among publishers, with some saying they will join while others definitely won’t, and a third group still to make up their minds.

Mohamed Hashim, owner of Dar Merit Publishing House, confirmed his participation. Yet he is concerned that the fair will see limited sales as budgets during this month are usually dedicated to food and drink (most Egyptians hold large family and friends gatherings throughout the month) and little budget will be left for books.

Otherwise, Hashim thinks that Ramadan overall isn’t really linked with reading, and that it is likely that religious, not cultural, books will be sold. Hashim’s biggest concern, however, is the location, since Faysal Street is among the most crowded in Cairo, and this alone is likely to deter many potential visitors.

Fatma El-Boudy, owner of Al-Ain Publishing, has decided not to join at all, considering it a book fair dedicated to religious books, which is not their specialty. In addition to the late announcement of the event, it coincides with other international events. Similarly, Mohamed Salah, owner of Al-Dar Publishing, will not participate in the fair, as he perceives it to have no cultural value due to timing and its location.

Al-Shorouk, one of the largest publishing houses in Egypt, hasn’t decided whether to join or not, as confirmed by Mohamed Khedr, head of distribution. “The owners are well aware of the constraints of the time and location,” he told Ahram Online. Moussa Ali, media contact for Al-Dar Al-Masreya Al-Lubnanyea, confirmed their participation, although he was similarly concerned about the purchasing power of visitors and the overall concern with religious rituals throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

On another front, the Publishers Union, headed by Mohamed Rashad who is also the owner of Al-Dar Al-Masreya Al-Lubnanyea, defended the decision by the union to join the book fair. “Using the location owned by the GBO will save a lot of money in rental, both for publishers and the organisation.” Rashad is personally optimistic about the potential number of visitors, expecting those who missed the Cairo International Book Fair, cancelled in January due to the popular revolution, to come.

Meanwhile, Megahed defended the decision to organise the fair, explaining that this isn’t the first time a book fair is held during Ramadan, and that 80 per cent of the books will be new releases, thus encouraging readers to go and spend a day at the fair and break their fast in the area. He underlined that 82 publishing houses have confirmed participation, included four Arab publishing houses.

Ahmed Salah, head of the fairs section in the GBO, told Ahram Online that the choice of the location came after studying the surrounding area: Giza neighbourhood has nearly no cultural services, and this renders the presence of the book fair a refreshing change.

“The ground will be prepared and an additional space of 5000 metres will be added for parking, so the visitor doesn’t have to go through the crowded Faysal Street and can use the Ring Road instead,” Salah explained.

It seems the GBO is also studying the potential of establishing a permanent book fair in the area to fill in for the lack of cultural locations and bookstores.

Regardless, there is agreement that this book fair is not in any way a replacement for the annual Cairo International Book Fair. Rashad also stated that compensation for loses due to the January fair's cancellation is still pending with the Ministry of Finance.

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