Beirut Book Declare “Resilience” and “Challenge”
It opens today, despite the absence of significant publishing houses
Thursday – 30 Rajab 1443 AH – 03 March 2022 AD Issue No. [
Part of the Beirut Book Fair in a previous session (archive)
Beirut: Sawsan Al-Abtah
Today, the Beirut Arab International Book Fair opens its doors after nearly three years of interruption, as its last session, which bore the number 62, dates back to the end of 2018. It even affects books. Publishers were divided into two categories: one that believes that Beirut needs a space of hope, albeit modest, and that everyone must face the circumstances with the capabilities they possess, so that the period of interruption does not last longer. While other publishing houses considered that the time was not appropriate and could wait until next December (December), the official date of the exhibition. This is what the Arab Cultural Club does not want, i.e. the organizer, which believes that a long absence is not in the interest of anyone, and there is nothing wrong with an exhibition now, to make up for what has passed, provided that another session will be held next December.
Therefore, the exhibition, for the first time in its history, will witness the absence of major objecting roles such as “Al-Adab”, “Al-Saqi”, “Al-Arabiya for Science”, “Al-Jadeed”, “Hachette Antoine”, “Al-Tanweer” and “Al-Jamal”, And “mada”, “narration” and “banks”. However, one of the owners of the participating houses considered the absence of what he called “whales” may be in the interest of the small houses. Dr. says. Abdel Halim Hammoud, founder of the emerging “Dar Zamkan”, which started its work only eight months ago, during which it published about 20 books, it is an opportunity for the junior houses, to meet with readers without much competition. Hammoud says: “We have 5 signature parties, and many new books, including one on Fairouz and another on Ziad Rahbani. And each of the participating houses has from six to ten signature ceremonies.” If everyone is waiting to see the results of this unprecedented session, Hammoud believes that “the initial calculations may not suggest that the exhibition will succeed, due to the unusual circumstances that Lebanon is experiencing.” Hammoud continues: “But if we think in another way, 3 years of absence, during which the role accumulated many titles. The publishers’ stores are packed with books that were printed before the crisis, that is, at very cheap prices, when the dollar was a thousand and five hundred pounds, and they could sell them at prices suitable for everyone. This is positive for the role itself, which needs to be conjugated. For our part, we will sell 4 new novels at a price of 100,000 Syrian pounds (about 5 dollars), while some houses will sell one novel at a price of 200,000 pounds (about 10 dollars).”
If the organizer called this session “Beirut Resilience… Beirut Cannot Be Broke” because of all the obstacles it faces, then the owner of “Dar Nelson” Suleiman Bakhti considers it a “challenge exhibition” and “exploration”. He adds: “That is, because we no longer know where we are from the general public, from the general readership. A long time has passed, during which many things have changed. This is something that worries me as a cultural person. There is a kind of withdrawal from the field, while our duty is to create spaces of convergence through books, theater, music, and others. It is not important for people to buy this time, the most important thing is for them to come, to meet, to get out of their homes and their worries. We want, after the economic collapse, the explosion of Beirut and Corona, and all the disasters that have befallen us during the past two years, to see people gather themselves again.”
In previous years, exhibitions were held in the “Sea Side Arena” in downtown Beirut, on an area of 10,000 square meters, but this huge hall was blown up due to the explosion of the port on August 4, 2020, and part of it, an area of 4,000 square meters, was restored. The participating houses, while there is a promise that the whole hall will be restored at the end of the year, and the next date of the exhibition.
Jihad Shabaro, owner of the Arab House of Science, which did not participate in the exhibition, is convinced that the conditions are not favorable. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the building is not ready yet, and the parking lot has not yet been regulated. When the publishers were asked about the organization of the exhibition now, most of them did not agree, as did the union, which will not participate. And we didn’t like to break her decision. We told them: We do not want failure. Let the fair happen at the right time, and we are ready to participate at cheap prices.”
As for Rasha Al-Amir, the owner of “Dar Al-Jadeed”, who will not participate either, she wrote on the house’s Facebook page: “(Dar Al-Jadeed), which has participated since its establishment in this exhibition, is veiled this year. It’s time for some frankness. We wrote on our website for free. We wrote through (Amazon) for those who can buy books in this comfortable suit (font increase and decrease, built-in dictionary, the ability to take notes, etc.). Book fairs in our knowledge are nothing but facades and a view that does not serve the reader. The reader, the reader singing about narcissistic tinsel is no longer among our priorities.”
But this is not the opinion of the readers, who expressed their happiness through their Facebook pages, to see the exhibition return, as if it indicates a relief that may appear soon.
Salwa Siniora Baasiri, president of the Arab Cultural Club (organizing the event), saw that holding the exhibition today is “a process of cultural awakening for Beirut, the capital that is broken and not defeated.” It is he who gives way to defeat or decides to overcome it. And if he has the will, he will definitely stand up again.”
Publisher Suleiman Bakhti agrees, saying: “We must not leave the book alone. This exhibition is ours, we fix it, and we spoil it. I hope everyone will participate, with all due respect to the opinion of the objectors. We’ll be there, we’ll secure the costs, and we don’t know if we’ll make up for it, we’re experiencing a new situation. But if the exhibition does not happen, there is a shortage. We want to continue, because culture is one of the features of our lives, and the more challengers there are, the more rewarding and honorable the attempt.”
There are problems facing the exhibition, and this is not hidden by anyone, but there are enormous efforts exerted by the Cultural Club and many roles that see the absence of a basic role from participation as an unjustified and incomprehensible position, especially since these roles participate in all Arab exhibitions, all of which were supposed to be in The Bahrain and Kuwait exhibitions, which were canceled, due to “Corona”
This year’s Beirut fair will be deprived of visiting school students who will not be able to participate in activities as usual, due to the high cost of transportation. Also, a number of publishers faced difficulties in securing display shelves at an affordable price. All the logistical arrangements were without hurdles. Indeed, it has made the organizers deal with challenges they have never faced before.
Many artists and intellectuals participate in the daily activities accompanying the exhibition. On the second day, a dialogue between poetry and music, with the participation of Heba al-Qawas and Zahi Wehbe. The program will have a musical evening entitled “On the Path of Poetry from Tripoli to Beirut,” and a musical evening by “Beirut’s Picard Ensemble.” Coincidentally, a day for Ukrainian culture takes place at a time when news of this country fills the screens, and the audience must wish to know the other side of a country. ravaged by war. The program included a celebration of the centenary of Faraj Antoun, with the participation of Karam El-Helweh, Ali Hamiya, Mahmoud Shureh, Saqr Abu Fakhr, Suleiman Bakhti, and presented by Michel Mubarak. A symposium entitled “The Places of the Novel and Traveling to It” will also be held, with the participation of the Algerian novelist Wassini Laaraj. There is a session on “The Minister’s Victory Notes”, with the participation of Intisar Al-Wazir and Saqr Abu Fakhr. The exhibition pays tribute to the publisher, Riyad Najib Al Rayes, with the participation of Fawaz Traboulsi, Yahya Jaber, Youssef Bazzi and Khawla Matar. And a discussion about the book “The Real Documents of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash”. In addition to “Beirut and Orientalism”, with the participation of Nader Siraj and Imad El-Din Raef.
Ninety Lebanese publishing houses, and Egyptian, Syrian and Iraqi publishing houses will participate in this course. On the sidelines of it, 30 events will be held, divided between intellectual cultural seminars, signatures of new publications, concerts, and many activities that will be daily for the delight of visitors.
The Beirut Arab Book Fair is the first fair in the Arab world, and that was in 1956 when the Arab Cultural Club organized it at the American University of Beirut, and it lasted for three days, and because of its success, it became an annual, cultural date awaited by readers and publishers. Later, it was called the “Beirut Arab International Book Fair”, and the current session will continue until the 13th of the month.