Despite a severe cold spell and a recent surge in Covid-19 infections, the 53rd Cairo International Book Fair opened in the Egyptian capital on Thursday with a sizeable turnout.
Considered one of the most popular annual events on the capital's calendar, the fair draws millions of people to its halls every year.
After an opening attended only by government officials on Wednesday, on Thursday, the garages opposite New Cairo’s Egypt International Exhibition Centre (EIEC), where the fair is held, were filled with the cars of the fair’s visitors, many of whom arrived ahead of the fair's opening hours.
“I really want my kids to develop a reading habit from early in their lives because I know it will come in handy when they’re older,” Nelly Diaa tells The National on the sidelines of the fair. “When I had my first baby, I brought her here and she got hooked on reading, which improved her school work immeasurably.”
“The fair is really nostalgic for me, I’ve been coming for over 15 years now,” says Nouran Samak, 24, “When I was a child, I lived in a province two hours from Cairo. One of my fondest memories is taking the train with my dad to come to the fair.”
For the country's publishers, over 1,000 of whom are participating this year, the fair is an opportunity to intensify ongoing efforts to invigorate a seemingly dying industry hit hard by the unregulated spread of e-books and the rising prices of paper and printing.
"There is no question that the publishing industry in Egypt is under threat. Demand for printed books is at an all-time low," says Mohammed Hashem, who has owned and managed Cairo's Merit Publishing House for the past 23 years.
"It really is a shame as well because there are some really great literary works being produced in Egypt today. Not just in Cairo, but in the country's provincial regions, too."
He explains that even when publishers attempt to sell e-books or audiobooks, one person will buy a copy and then share it with all their friends.
He says that each publishing house has come up with its own strategy to adapt to reduced demand among customers. While some have begun tailoring their titles to contemporary tastes, others have introduced more social aspects to their business models.
"We will all keep doing what we can to keep things going," he says. "For those of us remaining, it's not the promise of money that drives us, since it's not such a lucrative industry anymore. I find that a lot of publishers believe strongly in literature and the importance of keeping it alive."
One of the fair's halls, where the Egyptian government’s stalls are, looks markedly more spectacular.
Since it is a state-run event, several Egyptian ministries display their own titles for visitors to peruse.
The Defence Ministry, for instance, features painted plaster statues of Egyptian soldiers, while the Administrative Control Authority’s pavilion has a hologram of an ancient Egyptian goddess underscoring the importance of combating corruption.
According to Mohamed El Feki, one of the fair’s organisers, the introduction of new technology into the fair’s proceedings was one of their top priorities.
“This year is going to be special,” he says, patting another of the fair’s holographic displays, of renowned Egyptian author Yehya Haqqi, who is the literary person of this year.
Foreign cultural centres are also presenting their home nations’ most celebrated literary works at the fair’s international pavilions. Many of the foreign titles are translated into Arabic.
Cairo International Book Fair runs until February 6
Scroll through the gallery below for more pictures from the 53rd Cairo International Book Fair: