Old book market stands out at Cairo International Book Fair for selling cheap, rare books

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At the 51st edition of the Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF), which was opened to visitors on Thursday, stands out a book market that sells second-hand books, film posters and photographs.

"Soor al-Azbakeya is the secret heaven for all bookworms," said Atef Abdel Aziz, a man in his 70s, referring to the book market.

Soor al-Azbakeya, originally based in Attaba near downtown Cairo, participates in the CIBF every year.

But its booths are reduced to only 41 this year from 121 last year because of the high costs of renting, said Abdel Aziz.

Al-Azbakeya, along with the other old markets from the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria, stretches 369 meters at the CIBF site, with only nine meters for each bookseller, he added.

Ahmad, a student in engineering at Cairo University, complained that he found no satisfying book this year.

"This year some programming books aren't available here because many sellers did not take part in the ongoing CIBF," he said.

In contrast, Rehab Mansour, a mother of two children, was happy to find many books and magazines with very cheap prices.

"I bought 12 adventure magazines and 20 story books with only 100 pounds for my children to read during the vacation," she said.

"Soor al-Azbakeya is the best choice for us given the high prices at famous book stores," Mansour said. "I have no problem with used or low-quality publications because my kids only read them for one time and I couldn't afford high prices."

"The market for me is a window to find rare, hard-to-get or specialized printed materials," said Eman Mahmoud, a university student, who had bought a large number of books about Egyptian antiquities.

"Most of the sold books in al-Azbakeya are old but hold important value in authenticity," she added, noting these books cannot be found elsewhere because publishing houses only sell new books.

Atef Mahmoud, an Egyptian teacher, was happy after a long search for a few books published in the 1800s about the history of Europe.

The old market in the book fair is very important for researchers who look for rare books, he said.

Soor al-Azbakeya should be supported by the government as "a cultural heritage market for its historic importance in promoting the cultural awareness," Mahmoud added.

It is worth noting that the old book market is criticized by some publishing houses for harming their business by printing original stories with low quality paper selling them at cheap prices in violation of the intellectual property rights.

"The market should only work on selling the used and old books, not forging the new versions and harm our sales," said Ramy al-Sayyad, a book seller with Sherouq Publication House.

He attributed the high prices of new version books to the increasing costs of paper after Egypt devaluated its currency in 2016. 

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