Egypt's Interim President, Adly Mansour, open Cairo International Book Fair on Wednesday, 22 January (Photo: Official Photo)
Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, inaugurated the 45th Cairo International Book Fair Wednesday, 22 January, visiting over 16 wings of the fair.
There was no meeting between the president and Egyptian Intellectuals or publishers. The visit did not include media coverage. Even presidential reporters were denied permits to cover the event, according to an informed source that spoke to Ahram Online on condition of anonymity.
News of Mansour opening the fair was not announced until Tuesday night — a move that reflects security concerns around the fair, which is being held at a location in Nasr City, the Cairo neighbourhood that has seen the most unrest since the July 2013 ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi.
The Egyptian Presidency stated Wednesday afternoon that Mansour listened to a presentation of Ahmed Megahed, head of the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO), the official sponsor of the fair.
The opening saw a huge presence of government ministers and officials, including Ziad Bahaa El-Din, deputy prime minister, Saber Arab, minister of culture, Hossam Eissa, minister of higher education, and the ministers of housing, education, and investment.
The Egyptian Presidency stated that Mansour was keen to open the fair on its due date and that the president pays great attention to culture, as it is one of the sectors in the country that has seen huge developments after 30 June 2013.
The fair's location in Cairo's northeastern Nasr City district has proved to be especially problematic, with the fair's grounds not far from Rabaa Al-Adawiya, the site of a sit-in held by supporters of ousted president Morsi that was violently cleared in August, as well as being a stone's throw from Al-Azhar University, the Islamic institution that has seen ongoing protests between pro-Morsi students and security forces since the beginning of the academic year.
Seen as the last stronghold for the pro-Morsi movement, at least five of the university's students have been killed in recent months in clashes with police.
Further complicating the fair's safety is that it opens three days prior to the third anniversary of the 25 January 2011 uprising, 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 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 January 25 Revolution, and then closed on the revolution's first anniversary 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 February, two days longer than originally planned, with no halts in selling or activities, regardless of protests.
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.
Megahed, head of GEBO, vowed in a press conference 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 Muslim 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 roundtables.
The fair has chosen iconic writer 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 republish 20 of Hussein's rarest books.