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Vol. 75/No. 15      April 18, 2011

‘A thirst in Egypt to read
and discuss what’s next’
CAIRO—Organized on short notice, the Tahrir Book Fair opened here March 31 at the American University in Cairo (AUC). The event was scheduled after the Cairo International Book Fair was canceled in January due to the massive street mobilizations and clashes that convulsed this city.

The AUC-sponsored event attracted a couple thousand people on each of the fair’s five days. The annual Cairo book fair has been the largest in the region, attracting up to 2 million visitors.

“We organized the Tahrir fair as soon as possible, to celebrate what has gone on in Cairo over the past two months and to try to make up for cancellation of the Cairo book fair,” said Dax Roque, manager of the AUC bookstores. Opened by Minister of Culture Emad Abou-Ghazy, the fair attracted many of Egypt’s largest publishers, as well as students from city campuses and working people. Many had been active in the fight to get rid of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

An international team of socialist workers took part in the fair, introducing people to the Militant newspaper and Pathfinder books and pamphlets. A number of book fair participants came back to the Pathfinder stand several times.

Many young women were drawn to the literature at the booth. Heidi Hasham Hanafy, a graduate student at Cairo University, subscribed to the Militant and bought Problems of Women’s Liberation by Evelyn Reed and other titles on women’s rights. “You also have made me curious about what the Cuban Revolution has accomplished,” she said. Hanafy described the ongoing sit-in at Cairo University aimed at removing its president, Hossam Kamel, a supporter of Mubarak’s discredited National Democratic Party.

Yostina Boules, a young pharmacy student, recalled joining thousands in Tahrir Square shouting, “The people want the system down!”—a chant heard earlier in Tunisia. Pointing to titles by Malcolm X, Boules said, “We need revolutionary books. We’re trying to do what Malcolm X did—take full rights as citizens.”

“Before, we were afraid to speak up,” said a young man from Eritrea who picked up a Militant subscription and a copy of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes. “Now that has changed, and young people need to understand what happened in previous revolutions.” A substantial number of Malaysians studying in Egypt bought books at the stand as well.

The event’s organizers closed the book fair early the second day, as thousands of workers and youth converged on Tahrir Square to oppose a draft law restricting strikes and to demand prosecution of Mubarak and the ouster of his backers who remain in office. When the fair closed, the socialists took their books and papers out to the demonstration and kept on talking and selling.

At a later meeting of booksellers at the fair, some said they were upset the fair closed during the Friday action. “Pathfinder went into the square and sold the Communist Manifesto there,” remarked Karam Youssef from Cairo’s Al Kotob Khan Bookshop. “It was great. They were selling all the hot titles.”

During the protest the socialists were surrounded by workers and others eager to talk. Sixty copies of the Militant were sold, along with a subscription. Thirteen demonstrators bought Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, and 12 picked up the Arabic edition of Capitalism’s Long Hot Winter Has Begun, also by Jack Barnes. A number of titles by Marx and Lenin in Arabic were sold.

During the five days of the book fair, 24 Militant subscriptions were sold and 242 books. Local booksellers bought another 150 books to display at their shops.

During the mass mobilizations earlier this year, Egyptian authorities shut down universities, said Trevor Naylor, one of the fair’s organizers and associate director of the AUC Press and bookstores. “After Mubarak was overthrown, Tahrir Square became a center for theater, poetry readings, and cultural activity,” he said, “so it is fitting that we also have a book fair. There is a thirst to read about these events and discuss what happens from here.”
Related articles:
Cairo: Workers, youth rally for political rights  
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