Ramadan Book Fair still awaiting visitors

Mary Mourad , Thursday 2 Aug 2012

Nearly a week into the Faisal Ramadan Book Fair, visitor numbers are still low

Ramadan Book Fair

Despite all the turbulence surrounding Ramadan in 2011, Ahmed Megahed, head of the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO), insisted that book fair take place during the holy month of fasting, in Faisal. Against all odds, the fair was a great success. This year, 2012, the fair nearly doubled in size and more than doubled the number of participating publishers.

The bad surprise, however, is that visitors haven't reached near one half of last year's numbers. To the disappointment of returning as well as first-time publishers, the great success of last year isn't in sight, despite big discounts, advertising, musical performances and children's events taking place alongside the fair.

The fair is open from 11am until 4pm. It then closes for breaking the fast, and opens again 8pm until 1am in the morning. The evening features a number of leading literary and political figures in an open-air discussion, including so far Heba Raouf, political science professor, Khaled Ali, former presidential runner, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, renowned researcher and sociologist, and many others hosted daily starting 10pm to 12pm, then followed by an artistic performance that changes everyday, ranging from music, singing, shows for children and other attractions.

"It's only the beginning, and last year also the first few days were less crowded," was the reaction of Adel El-Masry, deputy of the Egyptian Publishers Association who supported the fair and helped in the organisation, building on last year's success. It remains to be seen, but publishers don't necessarily agree.

For Nomaan, owner of Nomaan Corner in Azbakeya, the used books resellers area, the reason behind the low turnout is the Cairo International Book Fair that already attracted most book lovers from across Egypt. Other publishers agreed with him, including Sayed from the Carthage Centre in the same area, who added that low publicity doesn't help.

Wael Mostafa is responsible for Leaders Bookstore booth and is already replacing some of his scientific titles with language education and children's books, "The fair is very far and without enough advertising it attracts only certain people; that's why I decided to change the material for sale to target schoolchildren."

For Mahmoud at Masr Al-Mahrousa's booth, purchases for Ramadan and the upcoming Eid holiday are more important for people than books. Therefore the timing doesn't serve the fair well.

Visitors, on the other hand, were happy that the fair returned, or at least the few who came last year and returned again. The mother of Noran was born and lived in the neighborhood and brought her graduating daughter and young son to the fair, and was very happy for the initiative.

Rasha and her children live a long distance away, in Bulaq, but still made the trip twice, since the children enjoyed the events and the fair, and also bought some books. Naglaa, who lives nearby, came along with her friend and was pleasantly surprised it was taking place nearby and with great discounts. They knew about the fair by coincidence while heading to the nearby clothes mall.

Not so easy to get there

The trip to and from the fair requires around one and a half hours from downtown. Further, the entire five kilometre street has turned into one lane instead of three, given the double-parked cars and abundant street sellers encouraged by the relative absence of the police since the revolution. Despite lowered numbers, the street seems gridlocked again this year.

Mohamed, owner of El-Khedeiwy cafe, complained that he had to lower prices (the opposite of what would normally happen in Ramadan) in order to attract people, and still only one quarter of his chairs were full. "Financial conditions are forcing people to stay at home," he said.

Other cultural events, such as music performances downtown and in the streets, aren't suffering the same fate as the book fair, maybe adding to concerns that financial conditions are limiting the appeal of events where money could be spent.

The concept of the fair, as described by Adel El-Masry, is to bring a wide selection of books to the people at the lowest costs possible.

El-Masry confirmed the plan of Ahmed Megahed to turn one section of the fair location into a "cultural mall" where a year-long book fair would take place, together with cultural events and performances. Noran's mother didn't think it would be a great idea, however. "I witnessed two fixed book fairs, one for school books and the other for regular books, open and close here in Faisal, and the neighbourhood isn't quite receptive for such initiatives. It's better that it happens in one season and attracts attention."

It remains to be seen whether the fair will pick up in the remaining week or will continue as it. The outcome overall is likely to determine the fate of GEBO's optimistic plans.

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