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Beirut International and Arab Book Fair kicks off today after three-year break

Beirut International and Arab Book Fair kicks off today after three-year break

An advertisement for the Beirut International and Arab Book Fair, returning this week after a three-year hiatus. (Credit: Beirut International and Arab Book Fair)

BEIRUT — After a three-year forced hiatus, the Beirut International and Arab Book Fair comes back to life today, although not without controversy — some consider the holding of the event to be in bad taste given the state of the country and its citizens’ financial struggles.

Here’s what we know:

    • The 63rd Beirut International and Arab Book Fair will be inaugurated this afternoon before opening to the public from tomorrow, March 4, until March 12 from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily at Beirut’s Seaside Arena (formerly known as BIEL). Its inauguration will take place on March 3, with an address by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, from 4-6 p.m.

    • Fadi Tamim, co-organizer of the event and its public relations officer, told L’Orient Today that, despite people’s skepticism, there was a very strong attachment to the idea of organizing the fair this year. “This year, we are trying to make something out of nothing. Honestly, after corona, the Beirut blast, and the destruction of the venue downtown, we are trying to keep Lebanon culturally connected [to the world],” he said.

    • The announcement of the 63rd iteration of the event by the Arab Cultural Club, which has co-organized it since its inception in 1956, was met with mixed interactions. According to an article published by the Lebanese daily Annahar, some believed that the absence of the fair, considered an integral part of Beirut’s cultural fabric, would continue indefinitely, due to COVID-19, the country’s barely survivable economic crisis and, in this particular case, the ballooning of book prices and the dire financial situation of the average Lebanese citizen.

    • In response to the backlash, Tamim said: “We wanted to provide a message [to the world] and underline that Beirut cannot be broken. Beirut and Lebanon will remain on the global cultural map. That is our determination.”

    • When asked why relatively little had been done to promote to the event (the fair did not have its own website, nor was it announced on the Seaside Arena’s official website) and why there is a noticeable absence of English language materials and information, considering it’s supposed to be an “international” as well as “Arab” book fair, Tamim said that the circumstances were different now and, compared to earlier editions of the fair, not many foreign, at least not non-Arab, visitors are expected to come.

    • Annahar, however, quoted the president of the Arab Cultural Club, Salwa Siniora Baasiri, as saying, “Our concern is the cultural life in Lebanon and Beirut, the capital. Whoever thinks that the circumstances do not encourage participation, we answer that these circumstances are what motivate us to organize the exhibition.”

    • The Seaside Arena was destroyed by the port explosion in August 2020, which resulted in the area of ​​​​the exhibition center being reduced to less than half, namely 4,000 square meters, Tamim said.

    • Tamim couldn’t project how many visitors are likely to attend the fair, let alone a projection of book sales, or sales of other things people might spend money on, such as food and drinks. However, he said, “We hope to [receive many visitors]. It depends on the circumstances and people. We live day by day …”

    • The fair’s humble beginnings at the Tourism Ministry building in Beirut, which marked the first international book fair in the Arab world, gradually led to similar exhibitions held in other Arab capital cities. Neither the 1975-90 Civil War nor other events in Lebanon’s turbulent recent past ever stopped the fair from taking place until 2008. Prior to 2019, it had only missed one year, 2006, when sit-ins that took place in Downtown Beirut in December that year necessitated its cancellation.

    • The full program of the fair can be accessed here on the Facebook page of The Arab Cultural Club. 


BEIRUT — After a three-year forced hiatus, the Beirut International and Arab Book Fair comes back to life today, although not without controversy — some consider the holding of the event to be in bad taste given the state of the country and its citizens’ financial struggles.Here’s what we know:    • The 63rd Beirut International and Arab Book Fair will be inaugurated this...