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2.02.2011

Does 'Egypt' Mean Anything To You?

While writers blog and discuss whether or not they're being apolitical, the Cairo Book Fair--the largest and oldest in the Arab world--is forced to cancel due to political unrest.

This comes a particularly bad time. Not because of the impromptu revolution. The fair was also being used to bridge cultural cooperation between Egypt and China, who was the guest of honor.

Additionally, for publishers who were participating in the fair, this means lost money. According to The Guardian:
While the political and humanitarian dimension is at the forefront of everyone's minds, Gaspard noted in passing that some publishers would also take a major financial blow from the chaos. "Publishers send books ahead because, unlike at other fairs, at Cairo you sell directly to the public. It is a huge organisation and many people will have shipped big quantities ... we are a bit pessimistic about getting the books back, and of course there is no insurance for this sort of situation."
But does this mean anything to writers here? According to editor Mike Meginnis (quoted from HTMLGiant):
"I don't write about Egypt because I don't know anything about Egypt and Egypt isn't about me. Honestly would prefer most people followed this policy. When we write or tweet about these things it's mostly self-important drivel, trying to convince each other we're passionate about the right causes, making a difference, etc. Whatever's going on over there, it's out of my power, and I hope it goes as well as it can, with as few people hurt as possible."
Responding to this, Roxane Gay writes:

I absolutely agree. In a few days people will be doing things like reposting some Facebook message or changing their Twitter photo as if that bears any sort of meaning with regards to a revolution in Egypt.

While Gay and Meginnis have insightful points, we can't forget that there are probably writers out there right now, experiencing this first hand. (In my mind all writers are part of a brotherhood where we all have slutty nick names and special badges.) In that case, it does matter to us. Their words have to survive. Writers are recorders of history even if they don't write nonfiction. Undoubtedly, a masterpiece will come from this turmoil. (The question is how soon is too soon?)

That and some Egyptian will get a very sweet book deal...

Still, what is happening is important. According to The Guardian (on the book fair):
In the past, the Cairo book fair has been marred by accusations that books critical to the government or books with explicitly sexual themes have been banned. A number of titles presented by foreign publishers are said to have been seized by the Egyptian authorities, including works by Milan Kundera, Ibrahim Badi, Hanan al-Sheikh and Elias Khoury, with some booksellers arrested at the 2005 event.
Change is happening somewhere in Africa: with perhaps the overthrowing of censor-happy government comes the road to a freer society. While some say that this will not likely lead to a secular government, there are many things that can happen. Meanwhile, populist advocate Glenn Beck sees this mass uprising as step one in a radical collaboration between Marxists and Islamists to tear down Western Civilization.

However, point is:

THIS SHIT IS IMPORTANT.

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