The seventh round of the Alexandria International Book Fair, held by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA), was launched last week and will run till next Wednesday. General Adel Labib, Governor of Alexandria, opened the Book Fair. The opening was attended by the Kuwaiti ambassador to Cairo and the Consul of Saudi Arabia in Alexandria, as well as a number of diplomats, intellectuals and media persons. The US ambassador to Cairo Margaret Scoby visited the fair.
In his speech, Ismail Serageldin, Director of the BA, expressed his delight in the increasing participation of great intellectuals in the Fair and added that Alexandria International Book Fair indeed highlights the cultural and enlightening role played by the BA on the local, regional and international levels. He added that the Fair has become well recognised by publishers whether Egyptian, Arab or international; this year’s edition features the participation of 100 publishing houses.
The National Centre for Translation is the guest of honour of this year’s fair, and is joining forces with the BA to make the fair into a cultural forum where pressing and contemporary issues are discussed. Participating in the forum are speakers from Egypt, Palestine and Syria. A special pavilion, Dr Serageldin said, has been set up to celebrate al-Quds (Jerusalem) as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2009.
Proud to announce
Dr Serageldin proudly announced the launching of the largest Arabic digital library in the world, which includes the Internet archive DAR uploaded by the BA and including more than 100,000 Arabic books encompassing different fields of knowledge.
DAR, the Digital Assets Repository is a system developed to create and maintain BA’s digital collections. DAR acts as a repository for all types of digital material, preserving and archiving the digital media and providing public access to digitised collections through web-based search and browsing facilities. It comprises tens of thousands of images and documents, as well as comprehensive projects that enrich the memory of contemporary Egypt, such as the archives of the Suez Canal and President Sadat.
Over 62,000 books are now available on the DAR website. Non-copyright protected books fully available on the Internet, while only five per cent of the content of copyrighted books may be retrieved by the visitor to the site. Visitors can now directly purchase through the website: www.egyptmemory.com
Another project the BA was very proud to release was implemented in Cooperation with the venerable Egyptian publishing house Dar al-Hilal. Dr Serageldin said the BA has completed the digitisation of all the issues of the cultural monthly magazine Magalat al-Hilal over the last 115 years, and made them available on CDs.
Serageldin also announced the launch of Bab al-Bahr Project, a cultural centre planned to open next summer to cater especially for young people.
Among the Fair activities is also “the Big Read: Egypt/US Project, a cultural initiative” aiming at introducing American literature to Egyptian readers and vice versa.
A varied menu
Gaber Asfour, Director of the National Centre for Translation, praised the vital role played by the BA, especially on the digital front. He said he hoped the BA would digitise all the magazines of Egypt and Arab world. A good starting point, Dr Asfour said, may very well be al-Fatat (The Girl), the first Arabic magazine for young women, issued by Hind Nofal in Alexandria in 1892.
The cultural programme of the fair witnessed a seminar which hosted the writer Lamis Gaber who talked about her 17-year work researching Egypt’s monarch who was overthrown by the 1952 Revolution, King Farouk. Her work later was used to create the widely viewed TV series King Farouk which opened the public’s eyes to the reality of the pre-Revolution period and aroused arguments among historians, critics and intellectuals.
Another seminar on the narrative scene in Alexandria and Syria was jointly addressed by al-Said al-Waraqi, member of the writers union of Egypt, and Khairy al-Dahabi, one of the prominent Syrian novelists of 1980s and 1990s.
The Egyptian novelist Gharib Asqalani and his Palestinian counterpart Bushra Abu-Sharar talked on al-Quds in the Arabic Novel.
Several signing ceremonies were held. Youssef Zeidan talked of and signed his novel Azaziel which has climbed to the top of the best seller list and is among six novels nominated for the Arabic Booker prize to be announced in Abu Dhabi on 16 March.
Musical concerts and poetry recital evenings complete the rich programme accompanying the fair.
Dr Asfour said that the dreams of Egyptian intellectuals have come true through the work of the BA. “We are lucky,” he said, “that those at the BA are dreamers, dreaming to take their city back to its legendary charm and enlightenment.”