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- Written by Fatih
- Category: Culture
The book fair was set up in Gezira Garden, right on the Nile across the street from the Cairo Opera House in Zamalek. Entrance to the fair was free of charge, attracting families as well as buyers of all ages. The vendors themselves were pleased that the event took place, although more than one mentioned that the advertising and marketing for the fair could have been more effective.
Still, the garden area had a nice, welcoming feel to it. Authors and activists performed readings as families wandered through the aisles and shelves. Stores boasted copies of children’s books, test-prep guides, novels, historical tomes, and entire tables of Naguib Mahfouz classics. Many booths also showcased biographies of Western leaders and public figures from Michelle Obama to Milton Friedman.
Since the beginning of the fair happened to coincide with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Cairo, a number of sellers had healthy inventories of books on Turkish politics and on Erdogan himself, who enjoys a healthy level of popularity among Egyptians for his increasing presence in international relations with Western nations.
Overall, while this year’s Arab Book Fair may not have completely compensated for the lost revenues and cultural impact of last year’s defunct Cairo International Book Fair, the inaugural event sends a message that Cairo’s arts and culture scene will not sit on the sidelines while the revolution runs its course. To the contrary, the Arab Book Fair reasserts Cairo as a literary and cultural leader within the broader region.
Meanwhile, across the Nile, on a side street off of Talaat Harb street a mere few blocks from Tahrir Square, Egyptian artists are using a much smaller venue to pay homage to Ali Ferzat, a Syrian cartoonist who was brutally kidnapped and beaten by pro-Assad thugs on August 25th. The two-room exhibit in Cairo Atelier juxtaposes about fifty of Ferzat’s own works with works completed by Arab cartoonists in dedication to his life and activism.
Ferzat’s signature style – using recurring, often nameless characters to symbolize social institutions – comes across with incredible force, satirizing political and military corruption, incompetence, and arrogance without pulling any punches.
The exhibit also includes a cloth banner that visitors are encouraged to write and draw on, and will be given to the media at the end of September. Only a few days into the exhibit, the banner is already nearly full of get-well messages and words of support.
As a whole, the exhibit is a clear demonstration of solidarity with Ferzat and the Syrian people, who continue to fight against violent oppression that seems far from over. Assad and his partners in crime are portrayed as bloodthirsty thieves who silence the artist and common man alike. In the work of his fellow artists, Ferzat is shown as the victorious voice of Syria, towering over his attackers whose cowardice is apparent in their drawn forms.
Together, the Arab Book Fair and Ali Ferzat exhibit mark the bookends of Cairo’s new cultural space. Much is still up in the air here, but one thing is clear, this city will not be subdued, its reputation as a bastion of cultural power will live on, and life here will be better for it.
By Will Roth, Aslan Media Content Manager
Will also produces YearinCairo.com
*Photo Credit: Will Roth
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