The 38th International Book Fair
by Seif Kamel
The last time I visited the Cairo International Book Fair was when I was in preparatory school. I remember that the school held a trip to the fair at that time and you either went on the trip, or you had a normal school day. Therefore, 90% of the kids preferred to go on the trip. I remember buying some simple science books about the subjects I liked, and it was a fun day since I was with my friends.
I am not really a book fan. I would rather read stuff on the internet, but this year I thought I had to check out the 38th International Book Fair held in Egypt. Maybe one of the things that encouraged me was that Mr. President, Hosny Mubarak, went to the fair on it's first day to open it. This is because the fair is becoming more important and interesting every year. The Fair is taking place in the conferences and fairs area in Naser City, near the Cairo Stadium, which hosts some matches of the African Cup nowadays. This is why Salah Salem Street has become a place of action these days in Cairo.
623 publishers from 32 Arabian and international countries are participating in the fair this year . This is 108 more publishers and 7 countries more than last year. This increase in the participants is due to the vast changes and improvements the Fair underwent this year.
Germany is the main guest country this year in the International Book Fair. The German Ambassador, Martin Cobler, opened the German section in the fair and welcomed the Egyptian president when he came to open the fair.
The History of the International Book Fair
The Egyptian Book Association is main organizer of the fair. The Association is the main culture sponsor for books in Egypt and they invented the fair in 1969. The number of publishers participating and the number of guests who visit the fair every year makes it second only to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The first book fair in 1969 came with the celebration of the 1,000th birthday of Cairo. The fair was a huge success. This is why the concept of making a new fair each year became so
important. Afterwards, the fair became a major market for publishers. At first, it was only in Arabic, but later, publishers from all over the world started participating in the Book Fair.
In the last few years, the International Book Fair has included much more than books, such as videos, cassettes, CDs, electronic dictionaries and calculators. This year, there were some very interesting teaching toys for children as well. Science and cultural lectures, intellectual debates and poetry also took place at the fair, where many of the writers and readers met to exchange ideas and thoughts. The International Book Fair has become a major annual event in Egypt.
It was about 10:00 on a weekday morning when I reached the Fair. The taxi driver insisted on an extra 2 pounds more than the known fare because of the crowded traffic jam expected to be there. At first I thought he was only trying to gain more money. However, when we reached the fair I understood what he meant.
The line I had to stand in to enter the fair, after buying the one pound ticket, had at least one hundred people standing and waiting for their turn to enter. The the line was moving very slowly because of the strong security measures at the gate of the fair. There is a separate line for men and women, and another for families. The men's line was the most crowded because of the many youth who wanted to check out the fair.
After about 15 minutes of standing and listening to typical Egyptian jokes about the fair and the line we were standing in, I was finally inside the fair. There were two ways to go around the fair. The first one was walking, of course, and the second one was riding in an open train we call "Taftaf" in Egypt. The Taftaf was very crowded and it was leaving when I reached it so I decided to get around by walking.
The first section I reached was a long street with booths selling books on both sides. It was like "Soor Al Azbakeya" or the wall of wisdom, the book market I visited a few months ago. The first booth that grabbed my attention was the booth of Al Sherook, the well known Egyptian publisher. This is because they had very interesting Islamic books in English. I dont have to mention that the fair has many publishers who specialize in religious books, but finding an English version of these books isnt easy in Egypt. There were some copies of the holy book of the Quran and I thought it would be very interesting to read the verses of God in English after reading them in Arabic. These books would be really beneficial for anyone who is interested in Islam as a religion or as a culture.
Most of the booths had the normal stuff like computer books of all kinds in English and Arabic, history, medicine, science, etc. One booth really caught my eye because of the many bright colors I noticed inside. I discovered that they mainly sell children books. They had books for teaching alphabets, numbers, animals, fruits, and spelling. The most exciting was a section that had many of the plays of Shakespeare for kids. Each book had the plot of a single play like Hamlet, Othello, or Romeo and Juliet. The books are written in Arabic and in English and this allows the kids to read and to improve their language as well. It can be a very nice bedtime story telling book as well.
I went around checking the booths and I found a blue booth at the end of the row. It seemed as if I was looking at a website and not at a booth. This is because they were not selling anything. It was like a net caf that publicizes for www.boswtol.com . It is mainly a youth organization that created an Egyptian youth magazine online. They are also thinking of publishing a tangible magazine as well and the first issue was distributed in the fair for free. "We have been doing this for two years now and we have to look for more publicity", Mohamed Hassan, one of the organizers, told me. He also added that the International Book Fair is a great chance for them to let the people know about what they are doing. Honestly, I was proud of these guys because their booth was the most unique booth in the Fair, with its stylish decorations. They were also offering free internet service for the guests of the fair.
The other booth that grabbed my attention was the booth of the United Arab Emirates. It was designed to seem like a palace from outside. However, on the inside it turned out to be another traditional booth selling books about the Arab history, science and different cultures.
Then, I had to go visit the main guest section in the 38th International Book Fair, the German section. In this section the books were organized in the best way. Not like many of the other booths, where many books were just stuffed together. The books in the German section were each put in a certain place, as if they were pieces of jewelry.
I spoke to one of the organizers of the German section. His name was Daniel. He told me that most of the books are in German along with some English books. They had books about German history, culture, and philosophy. Some really interesting books were about how Germans viewed the Egyptian civilization and culture.
While I was in the German section, a lecture was taking place about German culture and how there were many cases of interaction between Egypt and Germany. I thought of attending some of it, but I found out it was all in the German language. They told me they have other lectures and debates in English at night.
I spoke to a sweet lady who was working at the information desk of the German section in the fair. She told me there are more than ten German publishers participating in the fair this year and that they were very proud that the Egyptian president visited them when he came to the fair. She was very helpful and told me that the books are divided in sections: like history, literature, medicine, children books, and art. I thanked her and continued my walk. I found out there was also a small caf that sells coffee and traditional German pastries at the fair.
Then I went to the Lehnert & Landrock bookshop section. They had fascinating books about the history of Egypt, in English and in German. There were also many tourists guides to places like Sinai, Saint Catharine and Luxor. The most interesting book I found there was a book about the history and life of Tutankhamun. Honestly, I thought of buying it, but knowing myself, I knew I would end up not reading it.
The German section was in the middle of a huge hall with many booths all around it that sold the best English books I found at the fair. They were selling books about absolutely everything a person can think of, with some booths selling educational CDs and videos. There was this special booth that sells electronic dictionaries and one of them was really good. It had English, Arabic, and French. It was very tiny, similar to some cell phones, and it cost 1800 pounds. There was also a small booth that sold all kinds of English magazines, from sports, women, decoration, music and life style. These magazines are distributed by Al Ahram, one of the most famous and biggest publishers and newspapers in Egypt. The man in the booth told me that Al Ahram has its own section in another hall so I had to go check it out.
I believe Al Ahram section was the most valuable English section of the Fair. This is because Al Ahram is the main distributor of many publishers from all over the world in Egypt. The books were organized the same way as the German section: each subject on its own. I found some really interesting books about the history of Egypt and the Middle East. There are books that talk about everything in the world and some of them are in Arabic and some are in English. If you are looking for a certain book in particular, the Al Ahram section is the section you should go to. They were also selling Disney Cartoon CDs for ten pounds each. I was happy and I bought a CD of the Movie "The Incredibles", because I adore it.
Getting bored from all the books I checked out, I started noticing booths selling items other than books. I found this cute booth named Edufun World. They were mainly selling educational books and toys for kids. What I loved about this booth was that they were selling Aragoz, the most popular puppet toy in Egypt. The idea of a puppet show is that a person hides behind a wall with an opening in it. This opening is the stage of the puppets. He puts special puppets in his hands and start moving his fingers as if the puppets are moving. Then, he is supposed to change his voice to make it seem like the puppet is talking. The main plot of these small plays is usually about a traditional man who fights with his wife or lover and it ends up with the woman hitting the man. I was so fascinated with these puppets that I bought two of them: one for a man and another for a woman to play it in front of my girlfriend. They only cost seven pounds each.
At the exit gates, there were big displays of the most famous and important figures of the Egyptian culture like Musa Sabry, Ahmed Ramy, and Refa'a El Tahtawy, the leader of education in the past in Egypt. They were showing a portrait of each figure and under them there was much information and a biography about him. This was a very nice action of the organizers of the fair because without these people, there wouldnt have been any Egyptian modern culture today.
Although I never thought I would enjoy my time at the International Book Fair, I found out at the end of the day that it was lots of fun. This place is a treasure for any book lover of any kind. Other than books, the fair this year has many cafes and vendors who sell sandwiches and drinks. I really enjoyed a nice hot sandwich of Shawerma. This is a famous beef or chicken sandwich with sauce, served in Egypt and many other Arab countries.
The fair is a perfect place for a family outing or picnic or even for a group of friends or an intellectual date. The fair opens from 10 in the morning till 7 in the afternoon from the 19th of January till the 3rd of February. On the 20th, 24th, and the 28th of February it will close at 3 in the afternoon because of the African Cup of Nations. This fair is held every year and if it happens that you are in Egypt at that time, you won't want to miss it!