Beirut Book Fair offers wealth of work on Arab Spring

BEIRUT: With this year’s Arab Spring on the minds of so many people in this region, the 55th edition of the Beirut International Arab Book Fair, which opens Friday, is of special significance. The region’s political ferment is the subject of many of the event’s featured works, and a major topic of seminars and discussions scheduled for the exhibition.

While many new releases address the recent history of Syria and touch on the outbreak of the ongoing uprising against the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, Lebanese journalist Ghadi Francis will share with readers the confusion that befell her shortly after entering Syria to cover events there.

“My Pen and Pain: One Hundred Days in Syria,” by Saqi Books, depicts Francis’ conflict of her questioning her convictions and ideas and her confusion regarding whom to support, the opposition or pro-regime groups.

Francis tours several Syrian districts, including centers of opposition, and visits religious figures. Her journey ends with arrest by Syrian authorities, deportation back to Lebanon and the Syrian state’s refusal of her request for re-entry.

Among An-Nahar Publishing House’s new books is “The Modern History of Syria,” by Kamal Dib, which narrates the history of Lebanon’s neighbor from the French Mandate era, between the First and Second World Wars, and until the summer of 2011.

The fair will host a seminar on Dec. 6 to discuss the book.

In his book “The Syrian Baath, a Brief History,” published by Saqi Books, political analyst and writer Hazem Saghieh sheds light on aspects of the Baath Party’s history in Syria, starting in 1963 and carrying the story forward to the outbreak of the uprising in the flashpoint Syrian city of Deraa.

“Walking on one Foot” is a collection of essays by Syrian dissident Yassin al-Hajj Saleh about the upheaval in his country, which will be available at the stands of Al-Adab Publishing House.

Works and authors from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt will participate in this edition of the Beirut Book Fair, which is being organized by the Arab Cultural Club. Some 180 Lebanese publishers, and dozens more from the rest of the Arab world, are scheduled to participate.

While it is the leading Arabic-language book fair in the country, there are also plenty of English- and French-language titles to be found at the event, with shops like Malik’s books and Antoine Library tending to these markets.

Several works at the fair take up the question of Egypt’s Spring. Egyptian author Ahmad Shiti’s “Hundred Steps towards the Revolution: Diaries of Tahrir Square” informs readers of developments during the daily protests which rocked Cairo’s Tahrir Square starting Jan. 25, and brought down President Hosni Mubarak. The book is published by Al-Adab.

Al-Adab is also releasing “A Woman Staring at Sun,” by Egyptian author Nawal Saadawi, which is comprised of the author’s discussions with Tahrir Square protesters.

The disappointment felt by Egyptian youth at the corruption and chaos in which Egypt was mired in the years before the uprising is depicted by Egyptian Author Hamza Qanawi in his book “Memoirs of an Egyptian Youth.”

The Arab Spring will also be the subject of a number of lectures scheduled for the exhibition. “The Arab Spring from Tyranny to Democracy,” on Dec. 7, will see the participation of Hasbaya MP Ali Fayyad, Tunisian sociologist Taher Labib and Lebanese author and one-time political activist Karim Mroueh.

Egyptian university professor and political activist Hasan Nafaa will deliver on Dec. 8 the lecture, “The Egyptian Experience, its Horizons and Possibilities,” which also promises to take up Egypt’s uprising.

Scheduled for Dec. 11, the discussion session “The Ideal Formula for Post-Revolution Societies: Islamist or Secular?” will involve another panel of participants in. Dec. 13 will see a seminar entitled “The Arab Spring and Factors of Change.”

Naturally the book fair will also feature books that have nothing to do with the Arab Spring.

Abdel-Rahman Halloush’s “Al-Shaykh and the Physician: Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri,” for instance, touches on the lives of figures inspired by Salafist clerics.

Mohammad Sammak, Father George Msouh and university professor Saud Mawla will take part in a seminar entitled: “How do we abolish political sectarianism?”

Fiction works also have a niche at the fair. Lebanese author May Mnassa’s “Sewing machine” tells the story of the protagonist’s regret at having sold the sewing machine that was her late mom’s only means to earn living, her efforts to retrieve it and the problems she encounters during her search.

Another fiction work to look out for is Hanan al-Shaykh’s novel “Shahrazad and the Owner of the House,” published by Al-Adab, a novel inspired by “One Thousand and One Nights.”

Beirut’s Arab Book Fair will also host a full slate of lectures and seminars on a wide range of topics, book signings, even a puppet theater show.

The Beirut Book Fair opens Friday afternoon at the Beirut International Entertainment and Leisure Center. The event continues until Dec. 15; the venue is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 02, 2011, on page 16.




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