Cairo Book Fair…There was a mirror before the mirror broke

The cultural program of the fifty-fifth session of the Cairo International Book Fair (January 24 – February 6, 2024) featured a symposium titled: “The Harvest of the First Phase of National Dialogue… Sustaining National Dialogue.” Perhaps it was actually a symposium. Not there.

In the printed program, there is only one speaker, advisor Mahmoud Fawzi, and the presence of the phrase: “in collaboration with the Party Youth Coordination” suggests organized parties, in a session “moderated by Ahmed Abdel Samad,” manage, not dialogue, a With the advisor, whose name I knew as the head of Sisi's electoral campaign in the December elections. December 2023, when the broadcaster asked him: Why was he moved “so strongly and with so much humanity” by mentioning Mr President's achievement? He replied: “The numbers…the numbers are horrific…If one were to look at these numbers objectively, there would be no words.” She wiped away the ghost of a tear.

old impurities

There was a vegetable seller in our country, and it happened that there was a lot of hot pepper in the fruits, and the poor man in the market kept cutting the pepper pods, and his eyes filled with tears and he swore by Almighty God. It's good, as evidenced by the fact that he apparently eats it, then bites it, swears and wipes away tears.

How easy it is for a lying chilli seller to swear and shed tears! What is the relation between black pepper and book fair? Everything is present in the exhibition except pepper, and it would not be included in any book fair in the world like a consultant's session, not because no one took the story of that dialogue seriously or carefully, nor Not because the characteristics of the parties were erased, nor because “coordination” is a borrowed word whose meanings have been stripped away, but because of the lack of connection between all this and the publishing industry.

But truth be told, the Cairo Book Fair has gotten rid of many of its old inaccuracies. I have written in detail about the change in the gallery's doors. What does the book have to do with seminars on football, reviews of Gamal Mubarak's godfathers, the first of whom is Ali al-Din Hilal, the days of Egypt's hosting of the World Cup, circuses and drag shows, the problems of independent theater? Groups, the decline of classical song, the cinema crisis, new comedians, and the plight of Egyptian drama in the face of the spread of Syrian drama? ..What does this have to do with the publishing industry?

At the Music Festival, musical issues are discussed, and at the Experimental Theater Festival, issues of cinema, visual arts and songs are not discussed. As far as book fairs go, it's a festival in which the issues of the imperiled publishing industry dominate the noise.

The old noise that was aimed at attracting the masses has disappeared, and its effects still remain, including those that ignore the issue of context, such as a seminar titled: “Invest Correctly, ” was celebrated by Chairman of the Board Ahmed El-Sheikh in the presence of a group of directors of the Egyptian Stock Exchange, company board chairmen, and “110 years of membership” in the World Scout Organization.


The exhibition remains a mirror of the situation in Egypt, its ups and downs, before the mirrors were broken and the major annual event was taken away, where control is easier and no voices are heard in the desert.

Consider the titles of the book fair in 2012, when expectations were sky-high: “The Civil State,” “Testimony of Tahrir Square,” “Blogs between Politics and Literature,” “Poets of the Square,” before the criminalization of the area. , the innocent were prosecuted and the revolution was held responsible for the sins of the counter-revolution.

I have a long association with the book fair, years before I entered it. When I was in the first year of secondary school, in January 1982, the school announced a trip to the exhibition with a subscription of one pound, and that pound was not available. The dream was postponed until I entered Cairo University and saw Nizar Qabbani, Muhammad Hassanein Heikal, Abdul Rahman al-Abnoudi, Yusuf Idris, Muhammad Amara and others. His presence gave the exhibition its importance.

After graduation, I lived in a room on the rooftop in Abbasiya Square, and I would walk to the fair grounds. This tradition continued until the process of desertification began, Cairo was evacuated and turned into a city for crows, and demolished with bulldozers, so that the ruins could only be sold at the lowest price. Be subject to negotiation, and the fairgrounds were one of ruins.

This issue occupied me. This is the core of my novel: “2067.” If the intention is sincere, with the margin of establishing a new unit, it is possible to rehabilitate Al-Qaim, Fair Grounds and Cairo, instead of neglecting the patient, leaving him to his fate and recovering by monitoring him. Waiting for his organs to be sold.

I decided not to enter the exhibition, except once in January 2020, during my current exile, to share my friends' joy at a new book. They took me and brought me back. My situation is silent, it is a personal private matter that I have not announced. The exhibition is a season of joy for the public before the writers, and Egypt is a major market, and I despise those who promote a saying; 100,000 sandwiches and less than a thousand books were sold at an Arab exhibition. No sir. Hundreds of thousands of books are sold in the Cairo fair. It is bigger than just an “exhibition”.

brother's slap

Years before the January Revolution, I once participated in a discussion of my novel: “Day of the Day.” Then I refused to attend, because the seminar has nothing to do with books or writing.

I was optimistic about the revolution, and the publishing house submitted my book: “Revolution Now” for the exhibition award, and before announcing the results of the awards, the officials of the book authority took a photo of my ID card from the publishing house Asked, and was told that this process applies to winners, to arrange matters related to the prize, oh, the money is welcome.

The victory of the book “Repent from the Brotherhood” took me by surprise, as part of the rise of repentant brothers who unknowingly received hundreds of Brotherhood slaps on the back of their necks. I laughed, and I don't blame the old moderators. Reading the context is comforting, and we are in a country where anyone who says Sayyid Qutb is a terrorist can become culture minister.

I don't interact with the show. I wrote an angry article in the London newspaper “Al-Arab” on August 7, 2018, before its transfer to its current location, titled: “Evacuating Cairo… Goodbye Book Fair”. This year's edition has a personal exception that requires explanation, as I am participating in a symposium about the literature of the Norwegian author who won the 2023 Nobel Prize: “The Writings of Yun Fosse.” Between esotericism and spirituality.

Invitation from the Norwegian side as part of Norway's activities as an honored guest, and I don't know the invitees. In 2018, I published an article about the novel: “Morning and Evening”, probably the first Arabic writing about John Fosse before he was awarded the Nobel Prize. An extraordinary writer, as if he had no father, and this was confirmed for me after reading his novel: “The Trilogy”. My visit to the fair is a one-time event.

suspicious communication

In Egypt, unlike Europe and developed countries, there is a love of festival status, pride in exaggeration, boasting of numbers and the number of visitors announced. They are visitors, passersby who do not interact, a distinguished guest on a mission, strangers in isolation, a strange land that offers orders and procedures calculated in maquettes. Or film decoration.

As for the space of the previous exhibition, it receives communication with its human and geographical surroundings, and this is undesirable and suspicious. With the potential of a competent exhibition, the exhibition can create a state of gathering that can ignite a spark, and perhaps this is the secret of its pursuit from the heart to the outskirts, from the island to Nasr City to the desert. I will never stop dreaming of an exclusive book fair in the gardens and courtyard of the Abedin Palace or in the courtyard of the Opera House.

A dream betting on the symbolism of the revolution of January 25, 2011 and its promises of citizenship status. At that time, books documenting the events of the Revolution, giving martyrdom to the martyrs, and recording the yearnings for freedom accompanied by graffiti on the walls were reprinted. At that time, we will not see police vehicles around Abedin Palace, Opera House or nearby intersections.

In Europe and developed countries, soldiers are not seen on the streets. This brings prestige to the law; They are assured of justice and the symptoms of hardness disappear.

Let us dream, there are no restrictions on dreams and imagination was free in the beginning and will remain free in the end also.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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