El-Azbakeya Book Fair extended for another week

Zainab Magdy, Sunday 27 Mar 2011

The El-Azbakeya book fair, an initative to encourage people to visit the second-hand book market, has been extended until the end of March

In the wake of the 25 January revolution in Egypt, the Cairo International Book Fair, planned for 29 January, was cancelled.

The annual fair is where booksellers and publishers in Egypt make their greatest profits.

Souk El-Azbakeya in Attaba, the oldest book market in Egypt, has thrived for decades. Lined by an old gate, the small kiosks are filled with every kind of reading material imaginable, mainly second-hand books with a few recent publications. The history and stories behind the wall and the market are quite impressive, as told earlier in "Street Smart: Souq El Azbakeya, a haven for book lovers."

This year, because of the current circumstances, profits have fallen drastically since the end of January.

Almost three weeks ago, an initiative began on Facebook invited people to the ‘Azbakeya Book Fair’ from 13  - 23  March, in an attempt to get the market moving again.

Two brothers, Aly and Mohamed Qassem who own a book store in Azbakeya, proposed the idea to the other book-sellers who welcomed it warmly. The fair began last week, and has now been extended for another week.

"We depend on the international book fair more than you can imagine," said Qassem, "This is just one endeavour, but it's not a substitute. Over the past ten days we've had first-time visitors to the market, but still business is slow,” he complained.

To transport their stock of books to the international fair and back again after it was cancelled, Qassem spent LE5,000 ($900), losing any profit they may have made.

Am Mahmoud, another book-seller, said that no matter what the circumstances are the market stays the same. "If we climbed a mountain to sell books, people would follow us there".

There is a surplus of books because as Am Mahmoud explains, "We sell a lot at the international fair because even people who don't read go there to spend a day out".

Not many people have shown up to the Azbakeya fair but there was a good number on the first three days. "There were more people when there was publicity," says Ahmed Shawky, whose shop is stacked from top to bottom with books as his storerooms are already full.

"There were a lot of people the other day when Ahmed El Esseily (a young author) was here talking to people. We need more of these visits from writers, and our very own Hajj Harby takes care of our famous writers," said Shawky grinning.

Books, magazines, comic books, and lots of other reading material, are piled in the shops and on stands and stalls between bookshops.

Anne and Fady, two students from the faculty of Fine Arts at Cairo University were in Azbakeya looking for books. "I always come," said Fady, "but I made it a point to come during the fair to try to encourage others". Anne, who doesn't like reading but decided that she wanted to begin somewhere, chose the Azbakeya fair as a place to start.

One idea that is being put forward is to have another fair but with discounts. "We want to organise a new fair, with 50 per cent discount on the books to sell off the stock we have," said Yousef, who works in one of the book shops. "I want to talk to my colleagues and discuss this idea of a discount. I think it will really help us move forward."

Until Yousef and the rest of the Azbakeya book-sellers make a decision on a discount fair, this book fair will continue until the end of March.

"It's not only the fair. We are like this all year long, here selling books," said Shawky.

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