Back from Cairo International Book Fair – A true adventure in books

If book fairs are supposed to be still some kind of frontier, Cairo is the place to go. It is arguably the largest book fair on the planet, both in space (a huge area, with halls, shacks, walks and lawns (for pick nick), and a lot of surprise.

The Cairo book fair - a place for many and many purposes

Yet despite its 1.5 million visitors in 2 weeks – who come to shop for books, as hardly any normal bookshops exist outside Cairo, and no reliable distribution, the variety is very limited to religion, children’s educational materials, romance and a few sprinkled other books.

Cairo - book stalls

Cairo - book stall

The Cairo book fair – a place for many and for many purposes

You see large crowds, people of all strands of life, many children, religious people and laymen, ready for a discovery.

(Find an entire album of pictures from the Cairo book fair at Flickr.)

However, doing the facts on the Arab book market is sobering. Looking out for relevant data about Arab book publishing, I got introduced to Salah B. Chebaro from Beirut, Lebanon, who runs Neel Wa Furat, probably the largest online book store in the Arab world. I asked him how many titles he has on his online catalogue, and the answer is ca. 8.000. He estimates that between Lebanon and Egypt, the two main book producing countries of the region, plus Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, some 15.000 titles are currently available. The Maghreb states may add another 5.000.

New titles on display

New titles on display

So altogether, this equals roughly the output of Poland, yet Poland’s population of 38 million needs to be set into perspective to an Arab population of 200 million. The Arab Human Development Report of 2003 estimated the Arab book production at not exceeding 1.1 percent of world production.

However there is growing international interest in the Arab world’s publishing. This year, the United Kindom, helped by the British Council, is the guest of honour and brings a lot of expertise and support. In the Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, ambitious new foundations have been set up to give a strong push and develop reading culture, translation and diversity. a few big players from Western publishing have set up shop recently in Dubai, notably Random House, Harper Collins and Bloomesbury.

And in just a few months, we will hold a “Global Market Forum: The Arab World” at BookExpo America (28 – 31 May, 2009, in New York).

Omar Moussa, General Secretary of the Arab League, with Anna Swank of ArteEast, Nasser Jarrous and myself

Amre Moussa, General Secretary of the Arab League, with Anna Swank of ArteEast, Nasser Jarrous and myself

It will be inaugurated by the General Secretary of the Arab League, Amre Moussa who received us kindly.

It will be a very special event to present writers, translators, publishers and experts to explore Arab culture in New York.

With more details, both on the Arab book market – with data and ressources – and about our program at BEA to come here soon.

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