The 47th edition of the Cairo International Book Fair will kick off on Wednesday 27 January with 850 publishers from 34 countries; the largest number of countries participating in the fair since its inauguration.
It is not yet clear whether Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi will inaugurate the fair, but there is no planned meeting between the president and intellectuals; a tradition set by ousted president Hosni Mubarak and discontinued after his ouster.
Former president Mohamed Morsi had only met with publishers on the inauguration of the one edition that took place during his year in office.
The details of this year’s edition – set to conclude on 10 February – were revealed in a press conference held at the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO), the official sponsor and organiser of the event.
The fair’s opening date was changed for the second year in a row to avoid coinciding with the anniversary of the 25 January revolution.
The fair’s theme this year will be “Culture on the Frontline,” with GEBO head Haitham El-Hajj Ali saying, “culture is the main solution to the problems of society and the firewall against the extreme ideas.”
Picking a theme for the fair is a new tradition set after the revolution, reflecting the political scene and mostly fighting radicalism with cultural endeavours.
Last year, the fair’s theme was ‘Culture and Renovation,’ which reflected the ongoing demands of members of the political elite and intellectuals in Egypt to reform and renew religious discourse.
Reformist imam Mohamed Abdou (1849 – 1905) was chosen as the fair’s person of the year in 2015.
This edition’s person of the year is iconic novelist Gamal El-Ghitani, who passed away in October last year.
The countries participating in the fair include 21 Arab states and 13 non-Arab countries, with 550 publisher from Egypt, 250 from the Arab world, and 50 foreign publishers, in addition to 118 kiosks for used books.
There are six more countries participating this year than the second largest edition of the fair.
The list of countries, distributed to journalists by mail, includes the United Arab Emirates and Abu-Dhabi as two separate countries, even though Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the UAE. The American University in Cairo is also listed as a country in the foreign countries section.
Turkey will not participate in the fair this year for the first time in decades, which reflects the escalating political tension between Cairo and Ankara.
El-Hajj Ali said that even though Turkey did not ask to participate in the fair, he would have reacted “negatively” to such a request from a country that “harbours hostility towards Egypt.”
He did, however, leave the door open for independent Turkish publishers.
Although Turkey will not participate in the fair, Qatar, with which Egypt has also had tension, is listed among the participating countries.
The list includes Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Oman, Palestine, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Qatar, Eritrea and the guest of honour Bahrain.
The non-Arab countries include Italy, Russia, India, Germany, France, Paraguay, Greece, China and the Czech Republic.
Al-Hajj said that he is holding to the stance of Egyptian intellectuals of rejecting any Israeli participation in the fair, or any kind of cultural relations with the neighbouring country.
The head of the GEBO, who assumed the post less than six months ago, said he will comply with any court ruling concerning books by Muslim Brotherhood authors.
Last year, books by Sheikh Youssef El-Qaradawi, who is currently living in Qatar and is a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, sparked controversy and were removed from display at the Dar El-Shorouk wing the fair, along with books by the late radical Islamist author Sayed Qutb.
This year’s guests will include Chinese novelist Leo Gen Yun, Egyptian thinker Hassan Hanafi, Lebanese writer George Corm, Moroccan writer Hassan Orid, Tunisian Arabic Booker winning novelist Shoukry El-Mabkhout, among many others who will participate in a very busy cultural agenda.
The fair will be open daily from 10am till 7pm for book selling, and until 9pm for cultural events.