Jan. 22 witnesses the start of the 45th session of the Cairo International Book Fair under the slogan of “culture and identity.” Under the current circumstances, the question of identity could occupy a central place in current Egyptian culture, especially considering that toppling the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood — one year after rising to power — is one step toward discovering the multiple Egyptian identities, be they Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic or Arabic.
In this context, Ahmad Mujahid, head of the General Egyptian Book Authority (in charge of organizing the exhibition), confirmed that the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood almost deprived Egypt of many elements of its identity. This rule tried to twist the Egyptian cultural traditions to serve the pure interests of the Brotherhood.
This explains why identity was chosen as a slogan for the current session of the exhibition (from Jan. 22 until Feb. 4). “Identity here is the identity of the nation as a whole, the identity of Egypt and all of its cultural components, through rediscovering the multicultural entities of the various villages, regions and provinces,” Mujahid added.
The success of the exhibition and the devotion of its role as an international cultural event will only materialize when the Cairo exhibition reaches its educational goal. This was confirmed by Mujahid, who said, “We will not succeed unless the number of people who attend the exhibition increases, even if people tend to attend concerts rather than this type of activity.”
Nearly 800 publishers and 28 countries are taking part in the current session of the Cairo International Book Fair, noting that Kuwait is a guest of honor. Kuwait shares with the rest of the participants an area of 80,000 square meters, as the exhibition booths and exhibition areas have been expanded.
Most of the exhibition’s activities, including the round tables that are supervised by Suhair al-Moosadafa, revolve around the concept of identity, including: “Culture is a means of combating intolerance, discrimination and incitement to violence”; “the Egyptian identity has multiple dimensions, faces and classes, and it is a melting pot of civilizations”; and “the Arabic language is a pillar of Egyptian identity.”
After “Personality of the Year” was suspended during the last period, it returned to the program of the current session of the Cairo Exhibition. The "dean" of Arabic literature Taha Hassan was at the Cairo Exhibition, being “a master in enlightenment” in a time dominated by obscurantists. The exhibition includes seminars on Hassan's influence on Egyptian culture and identity. It sheds light on the release of new editions of 10 of his most prominent books.
The family library hosted activities within the main hall on its most important publications. “The service for readers” grants book fair visitors a chance to get the book titled Lisan al-Arab, by Ibn Manzur at cheaper prices, after it is reprinted.
At the end of the book fair, the Best Book Award is awarded by the Egyptian General Book Authority. This year, two awards have been introduced and awarded to the first and second places in each of the 10 categories of awards. A prize of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,436) is granted to the best book by the Ministry of Culture. As for the second-best book award, it will be granted by Kuwait.
The revolution and the youth
The activities of the Youth Forum are centered on the revolution and the youth. During the forum, there will be a discussion of several axes, namely “the change and the future, and harmony among youth”; “the role of the youth in developing political parties and sharing the hopes and aspirations of the masses”; “the Arab Revolutions: Facts, failures and threats”; “the youth of the revolution and division among the democratic movement and the pan-Arab Islamic movement”; and “the revolution: from demolition to construction, the role of the youth in developing a state of institutions and providing alternative perspectives.”
A new activity titled “Two generations: toward developing a strategy to preserve Egyptians’ cultural identity” was added to the program this year. It represents a meeting bringing together a young creative person, who could be an intellectual or a politician, with a senior experienced person of the same field. The potential guests include Abdul Rafeh Darwish and Mohamed Abdelaziz (The rebel movements in Egypt; from the Kefaya Movement to the Tamarod Movement), Mona Omar and Amira Farouk (Following the revolution: reality and challenges to women), Mustafa Hijazi and Abdel Qader al-Hawari (The Egyptian revolution and achieving a strategy for the future of Egypt), Khalid Moutawei and Amer Mahmoud (Sovereign services to face internal and external challenges), Mohammed al-Qarri and Gamal Fahmy (The future of Egypt: changing Egypt’s democratic map).
While there were fewer concerns over hosting Arab and foreign litterateurs, in the recent years the Cairo International Book Fair focused on dialogues, seminars and enriching book-signing events that turned the book fair into a festival bringing together publishers, writers and readers at the same location. While the book fair was firmly established as a marketplace to sell books, it turned into a recreation ground for families. Thus, the most prominent challenge to Ahmad Mujahid, the chairman of the book fair, is to succeed in holding the Cairo International Book Fair on time, as set by the Arabian Group for Exhibitions and Conferences, so it doesn't lose its character, after it was threatened after its cancelation in the wake of the January 25 Revolution. Yet, the remaining question is whether or not the Cairo International Book Fair will succeed in overcoming the urgent conditions and in re-establishing itself as a new cultural forum capable of bringing Egypt’s leading cultural role back.
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