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Egypt President Mansour to open Cairo International Book fair amid security concerns

Interim President will inaugurate the 45th annual book fair on Wednesday, despite ongoing clashes near the fairgrounds and plans for renewed protests over the 25 January weekend, the third anniversary of the 2011 revolution

Mohammed Saad , Tuesday 21 Jan 2014
Cairo International Book fair
Cairo International Book fair (Photo: Mohammed Saad)

Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour will help kick off the 45th Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) on Wednesday despite fears of renewed protests, prompting security concerns over the viability of the Arab world's largest book fair.

The fair's location in Cairo's northeastern Nasr City district has proved to be especially problematic, with the fairgrounds not far from Rabaa Al-Adaweya, the site of a sit-in held by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi which was violently cleared by the military last August, as well as being a stone's throw from Al-Azhar University, the Islamic institution which has seen ongoing protests between pro-Morsi students and security forces since the beginning of last year's academic term.

Seen as the last stronghold for the pro-Morsi movement, dozens of the university's students have been killed in recent months in clashes with police.

Further complicating the fair's safety is that it will open three days prior to the third anniversary of the 25 January 2011 Revolution, a date that will likely see showdowns between pro-Morsi demonstrators and advocates of Egypt's top military leader, General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

The fair's dates could not be moved, however, as many of the Arab publishers in attendance have previous commitments with other fairs in the region.

Ongoing political turmoil in Egypt has meant bad business for the book fair. It was cancelled in 2011 after the outbreak of the 25 January Revolution, and then closed on the revolution's first anniversary the following year amidst renewed protests. The fair went ahead as scheduled in 2013, but with a limited schedule of cultural activities.

This year's festival is set to go ahead as normal, running from 22 January to 6 Februrary, two days longer than originally planned, with no halts in selling or activities, regardless of protests.

A statement from the Ministry of Culture said on Tuesday that Mansour will be on hand to inaugurate the fair's opening day, but it did not provide details of potential meetings between the interim President and a host of Egyptian intellectuals, a yearly tradition started by former president Hosni Mubarak.

Last year ousted president Mohamed Morsi sparked anger among Egypt's literati when he did not attend the regular meeting with artists, writers and intellectuals, choosing instead to only meet with members of the Egyptian Publishers Association (EPA), which was at the time headed by Assem Shalaby, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter.

The move exposed Morsi to ridicule, with intellectuals saying that he was hostile to culture and afraid of being embarrassed in the meeting with a barrage of critical questions.

The theme of this year's fair is Culture and Identity, and will see participation from 24 different countries and over 700 publishers, 500 of which are Egyptian.

Vendors from the downtown Cairo used-book market, Azbakeya, will operate out of 92 stalls.

Kuwait is this year's guest of honour, after Libya last year.

Ahmed Megahed, head of the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO), vowed in a press conference on 23 December that the fair will not be affected by the country's ongoing political turmoil. His statement was in response to questions over the participation in this year's fair of Qatar and Turkey, two countries that have had a diplomatic falling out with Egypt over their support of the now-banned Brotherhood and disapproval of Morsi's ouster.

Megahed said that Qatari and Turkish participation in the fair will go ahead as usual and that their publishers will be treated like any other book sellers.

Beyond just the buying and selling of books, the fair promises a variety of literary panels and discussions, poetry evenings, visual art galleries, and intellectual discussions and roundtables.

The fair has chosen Taha Hussein as its Person of the Year, to commemorate his death 40 years ago.

To celebrate the occasion, GEBO has announced that it will publish 20 of Hussein's rarest books.

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