Thousands of Egyptians are daily attending the 45th Cairo International Book Fair despite four recent bombings in the city. The largest cultural event in the region has drawn more than 500 Egyptian booksellers and 200 from other countries.
Pathfinder Press, a U.S.-based publishing house that produces books on revolutionary working-class politics, is participating in the fair for the first time. The book fair, which runs this year from Jan. 22 through Feb. 6, was canceled in 2011 following the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.
The following year the fair closed on the uprising’s first anniversary amidst renewed protests. The fair went ahead as scheduled in 2013 under the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohammed Morsi, but with a limited schedule of cultural activities and many fewer exhibitors and attendees.
The fair has often been a center of political discussion and debate in Egypt. The military regime of Hosni Mubarak banned a book by Libyan author Idriss Ali at the 2010 book fair that poked fun at Mohammar Gaddafi, who at the time was a close ally of the U.S.-backed Egyptian tyrant.
In 2013 the traditional meeting held at the book fair between the country’s president and intellectuals — used by previous regimes to cultivate public support and by writers as an opportunity to criticize government policies — was canceled by President Morsi so as not to embarrass the regime.
Morsi was overthrown in a second uprising in June of the same year. The current interim president, Adly Mansour, who is backed by top military officials, opened the fair amidst high security. Most exhibitors and fairgoers were not allowed onto the fairgrounds during the opening ceremony.
Participants from Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Malaysia, Singapore and across Egypt have been visiting the Pathfinder stand, which sold 128 books in the first five days.
Best sellers have included the Arabic and English editions of The Communist Manifesto and Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, as well as titles on women’s liberation and the Cuban and Russian revolutions.
More than two dozen single copies and five subscriptions to the Militant have been sold.
“Women are playing such an important part in political developments in Egypt today, they are leading actions against military tribunals and supporting political prisoners,” said Sara Samir, a computer programmer who took part in the January 2011 and June 2013 uprisings that brought down the Mubarak and Morsi governments.
She picked up a copy of Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution from the Pathfinder stand. “I want to learn about how women participated in the Cuban Revolution.”
A young teacher from Saudi Arabia picked up the four Pathfinder titles in Arabic: Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power; The First and Second Declarations of Havana; Capitalism’s Long Hot Winter Has Begun; and The Communist Manifesto.
“These kinds of books are beginning to be seen in Saudi Arabia also,” he said. “Pathfinder should consider having a booth at the book fair there next year.” Some of the many students and youth who visited the booth were surprised and excited that revolutionaries from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada were part of the fair.
They were interested in learning about the struggles of workers abroad and meeting socialist workers staffing the booth.
BY PAUL DAVIES AND JANICE LYNN