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The Book Fair strikes back
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 22 - 01 - 2013

Going to the Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF, 23 January-5 February) is a Cairo ritual, often a family affair. Not only is it an annual occasion for launching books on local and international markets, it is a pleasant outing and a reference point for anyone interested in the life of the mind. It has not been confirmed yet whether President Mohamed Morsi will personally inaugurate CIBF this year, but the event will be as large as ever with 17 Arab and eight foreign countries and 735 publishers (498 of which are Egyptian) including 25 international cultural organisations.
Libya is this year's guest of honour. The General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO), the organiser, has devoted 200 sq m to the Libyan pavilion in the main hall of the fair and set aside 1,000 sq m for the open-air exhibition. Under the slogan “The February ether in the Cairo sky”, 250 Libyan intellectuals will be present, whether they come from Libya or elsewhere in the world. They are determined to show Libya's true face obscured for so many decades by the Muamar Al Gaddafi regime until the February Revolution finally brought the dictator down last year. During a press conference held early this week at the CIBF's home, the Nasr City Fair Grounds (NCFG), Libya's representative in CIBF, author Idris El Mesmari told reporters that this is the first occasion on which Libya participates in any book fair outside the country after the February Revolution; this, he added, puts added pressure on the Libyan delegation to make a powerful presentation. “Libya's presentation is a continuation of the energy of Egypt's January 2011 Revolution,” said Assem Shalabi, the head of the Egyptian Publishers Union, adding, “We hope that Syria will be the 45th CIBF's guest of honour.”
Ahmed Megahed, the head of GEBO, said Syria is represented in this year's round -- not through the state but rather a number of publishers who were treated like Egyptian publishers with a very low participation fee paid in Egyptian pounds, not US dollars. To highlight Egypt's support for art and culture, he added, GEBO offered all Arab publishers a 10 percent discount on their participation fee. This year, the fair activities will not be put on hold on 25-26 January the way they were last year to mark the anniversary of the revolution. “We don't have any worries or security concerns about the celebration this year because we believe that young people who came out for freedom will protect CIBF, not burn it,” Megahed said, adding that GEBO assigned a professional security company to guard the fair and take all necessary precautions in coordination with the Ministry of Interior. He went on to say that, for the first time since its establishment, CIBF is guaranteed with an LE100 million insurance policy against unpredictable financial loss.
CIBF resumes its normal activities, having added new ones in 2011. Seminars and poetry readings are being held on the fringe of the cultural programme, which features cultural cafés, round tables and literary encounters. The poetry and novel competitions established last year will take place; and, as always, there will be kiosks for second-hand book dealers. Awards for the best book published in 2012 will also be held. The LE10,000 prizes, for short stories and novels, vernacular and standard Arabic poetry, science, politics, economics, anthropology and sociology texts as well as children's books will be presented by Minister of Culture Saber Arab. At the conference Megahed announced that for the first time ever the election of the Egyptian Publishers Union will be held within the activities of the fair, while reviewing and discussing poetry is this year's innovation. “A children's pavilion where children are to be accompanied by a well-known artist or children's book writer is another innovation this year,” Megahed told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that among those artists are Salah Bisar and Abdel Halim Noureddin. “Workshops to explore children's artistic talent are to be held every day for the fair's duration.”
Concerning the rumour that CIBF's logo has changed, dispensing with the ancient Egyptian scribe, Megahed said it was not true. “The fair does not have logo, it has a poster,” he explained, explaining that the ancient Egyptian scribe is the GEBO logo and not the fair's; the poster changes every year. This year the artist who designed the poster changed the logo on it, with the scribe holding a book upward instead of forward.

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