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Cairo International Book Fair cancelled

7 February 2011

In the light of everything else going on in Egypt, it's perhaps a small thing that the Cairo International Book Fair was cancelled a few days ago. China was to be the guest of honour and its large delegation of it 248 publishers and 10,000 books was withdrawn at the last minute. President Mubarak, now with other things on his mind, was to have opened the Fair.

The CIBF is the biggest fair in the region and an important one for the Arab world. In all some 630 publishers from 29 countries, including 17 countries in the Middle East, were expected to attend.

Last year the Fair received an estimated 1.8 million visitors. It had already suffered an upheaval this year with a move to Nasr City Fair Ground in the suburbs from the Cairo International Conference Centre (CICC), which had been its home for 42 years.

The Cairo Book Fair also plays an important role in selling books to the public, although there have been some accusations of censorship in the past. Books critical to the government or books with explicitly sexual themes have been banned. A number of titles presented by foreign publishers are said to have been seized by the Egyptian authorities, including works by Milan Kundera, Ibrahim Badi, Hanan al-Sheikh and Elias Khoury, with some booksellers arrested at the 2005 event.

The American University in Cairo Press, which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, is the leading English-language publisher in the Arab world. It also licenses foreign editions of Arab writers in 40 languages, including the works of Alaa Al Aswany, Zahi Hawas (who was named State Minister for Antiquities yesterday) and the late Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

"The Cairo Book Fair was, as usual, much anticipated and the decision to postpone it was literally made when we had just set up," said Mark Linz, director of the AUC, in a telephone interview with Publishing Perspectives from his home in Cairo. "We have one of the biggest pavilions at the fair," said Linz, "We were all ready, it was just perfect, everyone said it looked terrific. We didn't anticipate that things would continue."

The publishers who had prepared to exhibit at the Fair face the risk of financial loss, not just because of missed business opportunities and already-incurred costs, but because of the books shipped to Egypt for the Fair. At the moment these seem, because of the change of venue, to be locked in the secure location in the new fairground. Loss of business will be harder to recoup and the cancellation of the Fair is also a setback for the whole region, as it is a big fair with a lot of influence in the Middle East.

International Book Fairs