The 48th edition of the book fair took place under the theme “Youth and Future Culture” with the participation of 670 publishers from 35 countries, including 22 Arab and African countries. It began Jan. 26 and ended Feb. 10.
Most Palestinian publishing houses did not take part in the fair due to the high prices they would have to charge for books in Cairo as a result of the rise of the US dollar against the Egyptian pound. Samir al-Jundi, the owner of Dar al-Jundi, said publishers feared they would not be able to sell their books at the fair due to the drop in the pound. It hovered around 19 to the dollar during the fair, although the pound has strengthened to around 16 to the dollar now.
Jundi told Al-Monitor that the drop in the pound made it hard to market books at the fair. He said the prices of some books reached around 400 pounds during the fair, beyond what many Egyptian customers were willing or able to pay.
Jundi said the drop in the pound's value did not discourage him from participating in the fair because he wanted to get the cultural message of the publishing house through.
He said he rented a 9-square-meter (97-square-feet) space at the fair, which was held at an exhibition venue in Nasr City in Cairo. He paid $1,300 for the space in order to display Palestinian books.
“Dar al-Jundi participates in all international fairs because it holds its Palestinian publishing message sacred. We are the only publishing house in Jerusalem,” he said, noting that the message is to make Dar al-Jundi more popular through the books it publishes.
He said the publishing sector in Palestine faces many challenges, such as high printing costs and the difficulty involved in commuting, especially in Jerusalem.
Dar al-Jundi won the Best Arab Publisher Award at the 2015 International Book Fair in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
Abdul Salam al-Attari, the director of the Literature and Publishing Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in the West Bank, said participation in international book fairs is up to the publisher. He also said there are only 28 Palestinian publishing houses in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Attari told Al-Monitor that the ministry does not force publishing houses to participate in book fairs, but that it tries to provide spaces for them in exhibitions and to obtain special facilitations from the fairs’ managements.
He added, “We try to encourage publishing houses to participate, and we would like more participation in international fairs through a bigger number of publishing houses. We communicate with the fair’s administration and try to get more privileges and free space.”
Mohamed Sherif, the general director of libraries at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Gaza, said there are 25 publishing houses in the West Bank and three in the Gaza Strip.
Sherif told Al-Monitor that Israel’s tight noose on Palestinians might be one factor behind Palestinian publishing houses' decisions not to participate in the Cairo fair.
He said the participation of only one publishing house in Cairo exposed the weakness of Palestinian culture, adding, “Palestinian society is not to blame for this. The closing of crossings and the tight grip from Israel on Palestinians to bury their culture has not been a helpful factor.”
Sherif said, “When the crossings are open, Palestine can get its message through clearly.” He noted that the Ministry of Culture is supporting publishing houses, promoting their products, protecting their intellectual property and preserving Palestinian cultural heritage by raising Palestinians’ awareness of their heritage and setting the stage for creativity.
In a related context, Palestinian novelist Yousri al-Ghoul, a member of the Palestinian Authors Union, said that Palestinian publishing houses did not participate in the Cairo International Book Fair due to Egypt’s bad economic situation and fears that the drop in the Egyptian pound could result in financial losses for the Palestinian publishers.
Ghoul told Al-Monitor that it is unlikely that the Egyptian state would stop organizing fairs for the abovementioned reasons. He said, “The fair is a source of income for Egypt.”
He added, “This is not just a book fair. It helps revive tourism and attracts customers, novelists, authors and intellectuals from different Arab countries.”
The Cairo International Book Fair, first held in 1969, is one of the most renowned book fairs in the Middle East. In its previous edition, the fair welcomed more than 3 million visitors over 15 days, thus making it the most alluring of Arab book fairs.
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