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D for diversity
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 22 - 12 - 2005

At the 38th Cairo Book Fair, Nevine El-Aref reports, the German guest-of-honour presentation will add to an atmosphere of diversity in which discipline figures high
This year the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO) will resume reforming the Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF), 17-29 January -- an effort begun last year.
According to Farouk Abdel-Salam, first undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture, innovations intended to bring the fair to international standards -- a cutting-edge information office, maps and signs, electric transportation -- include introducing a guest of honour: this year it will be Germany. Besides representatives of that country, Abdel-Salam explained, the fair hosts literary figures and Nobel laureates. Last year's programming policies, which drew in a greater number of publishers this year, he insisted, have proved an unequivocal success.
For his part Culture Minister Farouk Hosni believes that, this year, reform efforts will be reaching maturity, resulting in a more effective event. With improved logistics, a tighter schedule and more visitor- friendly features, he said, fair organisers since last year have managed to raise the international profile of what remains, arguably, the Arab world's most popular cultural event.
Two days will be dedicated exclusively to publishers before CIBF is opened to the public, and they feature a workshop on knowledge as commodity. Indeed the GEBO has officially asked the board of the Frankfurt International Book Fair (FIBF) to be the fair's guest of honour in 2010 -- a move Hosni described as an excellent opportunity to promote cultural diversity.
As guest of honour, Germany will contribute more than 860 titles. Johannes Ebert, the Goethe Institute's regional manager in the Middle East and North Africa, says, "we are very happy to be the CIBF guest of honour -- an occasion for reincarnating cultural and friendly relations between Egypt and Germany, and resuming exchange initiatives that started with the Arab world being the Frankfurt FIBF guest of honour in 2004. It's an unexpected thing, since the CIBF has had no guests of honour since its first round 38 years ago."
In the 350 sq m pavilion designed by German architect Sabina Wismoller and finished in pastel colours, Germany will be represented by the FIBF, the German Embassy, the Goethe Institute and Deusche Wella. They will be joined by the German University in Cairo (GUC) and the German Academic Exchange Service as well as the German Archeological Institute and Chamber of Commerce.
There will also be a Frankfurt city display and German activities will take place at CIBF fringe venues like the maqha thaqafi (Culture Café) as well. Music and art, including a presentation of the German project to host the 2006 World Cup, will be held at the Cairo Opera House, Al-Sawi Culture Wheel and the Metro Art Gallery. "We're trying to produce as big a programme as possible," Ebert declared.
He explained that, while having no specific topic, the German presentation will concentrate on concepts of exchange and German presence across the world: "German culture is permanently present in Egypt but the CIBF guest of honour is an opportunity to introduce the country to the masses. It will also spur on German cultural organisations."
Indeed, as he points out, literary readings abound, together with seminars on such topics as the image of the Arab world in the German media, Orientalism after Edward Said, religion in public life and the German and Arabic book markets. The young German writer Tomas Brossig -- Cairo participant in the Geothe's Midad literary exchange project -- will report on his experience writing daily on the web.
For children, some 400 titles will be presented under the title of "Dissimilarity has its own beauty", two children's days in the pavilion will feature DJ/VJ performances, an exhibition on "Illustrations of modern children books in Germany" will take place, a web page for teenagers, LI-LAC, will be launched, besides which puppet theatre, brass band and fireworks shows will take place on the fair grounds.
GEBO Chairman Nasser El-Ansari is as eager as Ebert about the exchange and is in the process of adding the final touches to the CIBF programme, soon to be made available.

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