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My friends from Italy
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 18 - 01 - 2007

THIS year Italy is the guest of honour of the 39th Cairo International Book Fair (23 January-4 February), writes Rania Khallaf, the first two days of which are set aside for publishers' conferences and copyright deals -- with no book buyers as such. Speaking to the press at, among other venues, the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO, the organiser of the fair), the Egypt-loving Italian ambassador Antonio Badini has been working hard for three months in anticipation of the event, the latest outcome of a publishing, translation and distribution partnership between the two countries dating back to 1969.
"The CIBF," Badini announced, "is a big event for Italy as well as Egypt, since both will be engaged in a cross-Mediterranean dialogue with which to confront waves of mutual uncertainty and fear -- the mark of 2006. Aside from politics and economics, culture is the most effective negotiation tool not only to encourage dialogue but to promote civil society as well." He also said that winners of the Napoli-based Fondazione Medditerraneo Award for literature, essays and translation -- the latter being "the alternative to the work of Orientalists, whose role is diminishing with the newly empowered publishing industry" -- established in October 2006 and coordinated by Dunia Abu-Rachid, a well-known translator, will be announced on 27 January at the prestigious 6 October Conference Hall on the fair grounds, where the fair will be held as usual. Among the high-profile Italians who will be present for the occasion are Edoardo Sanguineti, Claudio Magris, Niccob Ammanniti and Antonio Tabucchi. Italy will provide not only a showroom featuring 40 of its best known publishing houses (with Arabic translations of Italian works offered for sale) but seminars and round tables on Mediterranean cultural exchange and Italian history -- featuring historians Sergio Noja Noseda and Isabella Camera d'Afflitto and star illustrator Rosetti Giancarlo, among others, performances and exhibitions at the Opera House and Al-Gumhuriya theatre as well as the fair grounds.
For his part GEBO Chairman Nasser El-Ansari stressed figures over facts, as is the norm for Ministry of Culture officials on the eve of large-scale events: over 400 activities; 667 publishing houses (44 more than last year) representing 26 countries; and growing numbers all round. He announced a new translation publishing initiative featuring the work the Italian Franco Cardini and the Egyptians Sabri Moussa and Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid. Annual fair activities, both high-brow and fringe, this year include a daily seminar on Italian- Arab topics, such as comparative studies in the work of Al-Kindi and Leonardo or Al-Ma'ari and Dante, or else Italian influences on downtown Cairo architecture. The whole round is dedicated to the late Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, and a separate programme of seminars will discuss his work. El-Ansari made another announcement: "Due to the level of success achieved in its previous rounds and its regional weight, the fair has been invited to give guest-of-honour presentations at the London, Torino and Geneva book fairs during 2008."
See Encounter with Antonio Badini

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