The 44th Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF), scheduled to run January 23-February 5, 2013, is the second held since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, but the first since the election of President Mohamed Morsi and his cabinet. More specifically, the Fair’s coincidence with the January 25th anniversary of the Revolution inevitably ties it to questions about post-revolutionary Egypt. “Irrespective of how many times you might have been to the CIBF, the situation in Egypt is evolving at such a rate that the Fair of three years ago would be very different from the Fair of today,” said Dr. Nigel Fletcher-Jones, Director of the American University in Cairo Press. “What the spirit of this year’s CIBF will be is anyone’s guess.”
The “spirit” of the Fair has had its ups and downs in the past 40+ years. The first CIBF hosted 8 countries, with 262 publishers in 1969, reports Samir Saad Khalil, a Cairo-based publishing consultant and the Fair’s Director from its launch in 1969 until 2002. By 1991, the CIBF had grown to host publishers from 92 countries, an international scope nearing that of Frankfurt at the time. During the deteriorating Egyptian political situation of the mid-90’s the Cairo Book Fair began to fall from prominence. The Cairo Fairgrounds which had long hosted the Fair fell into such disrepair that all Halls and outbuildings were dismantled. Though there had been plans to rebuild, “the budget for reconstruction disappeared in governmental upheaval during the 2011 revolution,” said Khalil, “leaving the grounds empty of any buildings.” Tents were nevertheless erected last year and again this year, and will function in place of the missing halls.
The book industry in which the CIBF boomed and faded–and the one to which it is attempting to return–is one in which fairs play a pivotal role. “There is still no book distribution system in the Arab world,” says Cornelia Helle, Frankfurt Book Fair Sales Manager for the Middle East and Iran. “The publishers absolutely depend on…the many book fairs for the purpose of buying and selling. They have to go there if they wish to survive.” Samir Khalil points out that most countries in the region have two fairs per year (the second Egyptian fair is held in Alexandria): “I know a lot of Arab publishers who move directly from one book fair to another for seven to eight months out of the year” in order to adequately distribute their books.