President Mohamed Morsi met with Egypt's intellectuals last year (Photo: Ahram)
Egypt's largest cultural festival, the Cairo International Book Fair, will be inaugurated by President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday, 23 January at 10am.
The 44th Cairo book fair opens amid political tensions, as the second anniversary of the January 25 revolution approaches. Mass protests are planned for the anniversary, which will fall two days after the fair's opening.
It is also possible that long-awaited verdicts in the Port Said football massacre trials will be released on Saturday.
The 44th Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) will be held from 23 January to 5 February at the fair ground in Nasr City, with the expected participation of 25 countries, including 17 Arab countries. Libya is this year's guest of honour.
Director of the General Egyptian Book Organisation, Ahmed Megahed said that the fair will not close on Friday 25 January, when mass protests are planned to take place in Cairo to mark the second anniversary of January 25 Revolution.
Megahed said that the book-selling section of the fair will continue as normal, but that the cultural and artistic activities will be reduced to half their normal level on that day.
Prior to the revolution, former president Hosni Mubarak would inaugurate the fair every year and hold a meeting with Egypt's most famous writers. The fair used to be closed to the public on inauguration day, due to the security restrictions imposed by the presence of the president.
According to culture minister Saber Arab, Morsi will not meet with intellectual figures at this year's inauguration, but will hold a meeting with publishers, and Arab told Ahram Online that this year's fair will be open to the public from 3pm.
Egyptian writers and intellectuals expressed their dismay at the cancellation of the "old tradition" of a presidential meeting, saying that the decision would deepen the rupture between culture and politics.
"It's plain that he chose to meet the industry men, not the ones who give life to this industry. He chose to meet the businessmen instead of the writers and intellectuals," said writer and former presidential consultant Ayman El-Sayyad.
Writer Mohammed Salmawy sees the move as proof of the hostility towards culture by the Muslim Brotherhood. Salmawy believes that most Egyptian writers and intellectuals would not attend the meeting if they were invited, but he asserts that political authorities have a duty to do in caring for Egypt's culture.
"Ignoring intellectuals and writers is a prejudice against them. The state is giving up on its responsibilities."
Writer Ibrahim Abdel Meguid told Ahram Online that Morsi was seeking to spare himself embarrassing questions, which the writers would have sought to ask him, especially as he has not considered any of the things he agreed to with the intellectuals at their meeting at the presidential palace last September.
"The only question I would have for him if I attended such a meeting would be: Why you are being an elusive president?" Ibrahim said.
This year's fair is guaranteed with an insurance policy worth LE100 million (approx. $16 million) and the fair's theme is "Dialogue not Clash."
The 2013 event will host 735 publishers, including 498 from Egypt, 210 from the Arab world and 27 from non-Arab countries.