Cairo book fair – largest in the Arab world – derailed by unrest

About 630 publishers from 29 countries have been affected by the collapse of this year's Cairo International Book Fair.

Dylan Martinez/Reuters
As protesters surge in the streets and squares of Cairo, the grounds of the Cairo International Book fair – supposed to be taking place this week – are deserted.

The Cairo International Book Fair is the largest and the oldest in the Arab world and – after the Frankfurt Book Fair – one of the most important book fairs anywhere in the world. This year the 43rd annual Cairo fair was expected to attract about two million visitors and as many as 630 publishers.

But now political upheaval has overtaken book commerce. As protests and civil unrest continue to swell in the Egyptian capital, the Guardian is reporting that this year's book fair – scheduled to have opened on Saturday, Jan. 29 – has been "abandoned." According to the Guardian, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who normally presides over the opening of the fair, failed to turn up last weekend and China – this year's guest of honor – has withdrawn its delegation.

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Some publishers who had already shipped books to Cairo have had to leave their books behind, according to Publishing Perspectives.

This is not the first time that politics have cast a shadow over the Cairo fair. In recent years Egyptian authorities have seized works by foreign publishers and in 2005 Egyptian police arrested a number of book sellers and charged two Egyptian journalists with "disseminating false propaganda."

This year, however – as the Egyptian government fights for its life – the fairgrounds are said to stand in an eerily silent contrast to the streets of Cairo.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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