The 55th edition of the annual Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) has today, 6 February 2024, closed. It had taken off on 24 January 2024 at the new Fair Grounds in the east Cairo satellite town of al-Tagammu al-Khamis. As always, it coincided with mid-year holidays for most schools and universities, running for almost two weeks.
The CIBF is the largest book fair in the Middle East. In 2006 it was considered the second largest worldwide, the Frankfurt Book Fair being the largest.
The 55th edition of the fair featured 1,200 publishing houses from 70 countries, at a total 5,250 exhibitors.
Norway was chosen as the CIBF guest of honour, expressing a desire by Egyptians for better understanding of and communication with Scandinavian culture. Egyptologist Selim Hassan (1886 – 1961) was chosen as the CIBF’s honorary figure; and pioneer of children’s literature Yacoub al-Sharouni (1931 – 2023) as honorary figure of the Children’s exhibition at CIBF.
Close to 4 million visitors visited the CIBF this year. A proud Culture Minister Nevine al-Kilani said the unprecedented turnout was an indication that Egyptians were indeed keen on books and knowledge.
Ahmed Bahiel-Din, head of the Egyptian General Book Organisation which is affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and organises the annual Book Fair, said that the significant turnout reflects the public enthusiasm not only for reading, but also for the numerous cultural events held throughout the fair.
“The fair offers many interesting initiatives for readers and book lovers,” Dr Bahiel-Din noted. “This includes the initiative ‘Culture and Art for All’ which was first launched by Egypt’s previous Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem.”
The initiative offers books at affordable prices ranging from one pound to EGP20, in addition to discounted prices for publications by the Ministry of Culture’s various sectors and publishing houses.
Over its half-century history, the CIBF has gained a reputation for being a mammoth cultural event. Cultural activities include seminars, workshops, debates, book critiques and signings, film screenings, children’s activities, and others. Add to that the huge book sales to the public who are usually delighted to have a kaleidoscopic variety of books available in one place.
Since its golden jubilee five years ago (in 2019), the CIBF moved from the old fair grounds in Nasr City to the sprawling, 45,000sq.m new grounds. And just in case anyone finds it too far to access from central Cairo, the government has assigned special shuttle buses at key collection points to carry visitors every 15 minutes to and from the fair.
This year, the CIBF launched an activity to highlight young innovators. Two of the winners of the national contest “The young innovator” were honoured for their exceptional inventions: Muhammad Abdel-Gawwad for his work on converting solar into electric energy; and Youssef Mahmoud for his work on smart green traffic.
Interactive workshops were held for families and adolescents on self-expression through art, rights of the child, girls’ rights, battling discrimination and violence, and accepting and respecting the other.
Among the most well attended cultural activities at CIBF this year was the “Palestinian culture and heritage day” on 5 February. It featured seminars on “The Palestinian cause as related to Egypt’s national security since the Balfour Declaration to the al-Aqsa Deluge [which started on 7 October 2023]”, and “Scenarios of future outcomes of the current Palestinian situation.” The children’s activities featured an art exhibition “Palestine in the eyes of Egypt’s children”; a colouring session focusing on al-Aqsa Mosque; face-painting the Palestinian flag; an Arabic calligraphy workshop “In love of Palestine”; a narration workshop on “Arab Palestine”, and a choir performance by Palestinian children.
Performances of the popular folk puppet show al-Aragouz attracted huge audiences who sang along with the folk songs presented and insisted on taking souvenir photographs with the Aragouz. Noteworthy is that the Aragouz was in 2018 added to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
6 February 2024