Dramatic decrease in Cairo International Book Fair visitors on revolution anniversary

Mohammed Saad , Saturday 25 Jan 2014

The third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution sees numbers dwindle at the Cairo International Book Fair, though publishers are optimistic that the flood of visitors last week will be repeated in coming days

Cairo international Book Fair
The Arab publishers Hall at the Cairo International Book Fair (Photo: Mohammed Saad)

Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) saw a dramatic decrease in the number of visitors on Saturday, the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, after a huge turnout during the first two days of the fair. Cultural events were halted temporarily for today.

Most of the book selling halls were empty, though most publishers and book sellers remained at their desks waiting for buyers.

The gates to the fair were subject to stricter security procedures. All visitors were searched for weapons; they had to open their bags to be checked too, and pass through electronic gates.

This decrease came after a huge turnout of visitors, who lined up in long queues on the second day of the fair, ignoring security concerns that surrounded the fair which is being held in one of Egypt’s most restive neighbourhoods, Nasr City, where almost daily clashes between Morsi protesters and security forces have taken place over the past seven months.

Official statistics of ticket sales shows that around 88,000 tickets were sold Thursday and Friday, 45,000 on the first day and 43,000 on the second day, according to Ahmed Megahed, director of the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO), the official sponsor of the fair.

Megahed told Ahram Online that double of this number visited the fair with free passes, as GEBO printed 250,000 such invitations.

Cultural activities were halted Saturday, 25 January, due to explosions that took place Friday in front of the Cairo Security Directorate and that caused serious damage to the Islamic Arts Museum and the National Archives.

The number of visitors is expected to increase after the anniversary protests and celebrations end.

Some Arab publishers told Ahram Online, though, that the fair did not really start and they expect the real beginning after 25 January.

Currently the fair extends over 412,000 square metres. The books wings were redesigned this year to offer the visitors a better vision of books and all the wings. Visitors today were only allowed to enter the main halls after their bags were checked.

The huge turnout on Thursday was surprising, as Thursday is a normal working day in Egypt.

The participation of Arab publishers was not affected by security concerns. The wings of Hall No 19, which is devoted to Arab publishers, was fully packed with books. Arab publishers participated in the past two editions of the fair, which were held under more tumultous circumstances.

For many Arab and Egyptian publishers, the Cairo International Book Fair is essential to business, with some making as much as 50 percent of their annual sales during the fair. Many Arab publishers expressed optimism over the fair, determined not to allow it to stop or for turmoil to overtake it.

Nonetheless, the fair's grounds are not far from Rabaa Al-Adawiya, the site of a six-week sit-in held by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi that was violently dispersed last August with hundreds of deaths and injuries. It is also 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.

The fair's dates could not be moved. Many Arab publishers in attendance have previous commitments with other fairs in the region.

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.

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.

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