My relationship with the book “Publishing in the Arab World 2015-2019” is at the heart of its issues. His electronic version stayed locked in my email, then moved to the screen, waiting for permission to open. I have not succeeded in building good bridges with non-paper books, except for compelling experiences that make it difficult to obtain a hard copy. My traditional behavior is related to the fulfillment of the most important technical achievement in history, as printing contributed to the dissemination of knowledge, and raised the level of awareness necessary to end the religious-royal-military alliance in the world, which the Arab world eluded. In this study, Dr. Khaled Azab assured me that I am not alone. In a poll among French students, 43 percent preferred to buy digital books, biased towards the smell of paper.
Khaled Azab is also based on the study of Anne Mangin, Akershusch University of Applied Sciences in Oslo, who found that digital reading “resulted in minimal comprehension due to the physical limitations of the text,” while paper reading aids comprehension and information ordering. At the University of Gothenburg, a research team concluded that excessive reading of digital documents and rapid browsing led to the emergence of new reading habits, which are often one-off, and reading distractions lead to a loss of focus and comprehension.
In the Egyptian and Arab case in general, the paper-and-electronic dichotomy seems to be a luxury. Dividing the number of book titles and printed copies by the population is enough to discover the paradox between two worlds, the entire Arab world compared to Spain alone.
I cite two examples, about thirty years apart. The 1996 UNESCO Yearbook statistic of books published by authorship and translation in 1992 recorded that the Arab world (350 million people) issued 6,759 books, Israel 4,608 books, Japan 35496 books, Germany 67,277 books, and Spain published 41816 books, with a population of 38 million at the time.
The number of Spaniards has not doubled, they now reach about 46 million, and in 2019 the number of publications in Spain jumped to 90,073 books, of which 65,303 were paper books, an increase of 10.9 percent compared to 2018. Khaled Azab, who prepared the book “Publishing in the Arab World,” records that The number of books published in the Arab world in 2019 reached 70,630.
The progression package includes one football, personal liberties and the freedom to publish. Spain outperforms an Arab world, who has published 70,630 books. It is not only oil that publishes books, although wealth eases the obstacles of printing supplies and tempts translators. The 2019 statistic provides significant figures, as Jordan’s publications (3,920 books) are more than those of Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain combined. Somalia has published 1,320 books, better than Qatar, which has published 1,020 books. Egypt topped the list of publishing 23,000 books, followed by Iraq (8,400 books), Saudi Arabia (8121 books), and Lebanon (7479 books). In the book issued by the union, Egyptian publisher Mohamed Rashad, head of the Arab Publishers Association, says that “the Arab publishing industry is still in its infancy.”
Does not the publication know the principle of burning phases? The head of the Publishers Association does not reassure us, who says that this industry “still lacks many rules governing all those involved in this industry (author-printer-distributor)… The Arab publishing industry is the only one in the world that does not have a database” with the numbers of publishers, authors and illustrators and cover designers.
As for Khaled Azab, he puts us in front of the randomness of publishing; Books issued without national filing numbers, some of which are printed in one country for the benefit of a publisher in another. What the author did not observe is the printing of books in official publishing houses without a deposit number. Film festivals in Egypt do not recognize filing numbers in their annual releases.
Cairo Film Festival publications fluctuate between mentioning the filing number and neglecting it. And the Ismailia International Festival for Documentary and Short Films issued in its last session (2020), seven books without deposit numbers.
In 2018, the Ismailia Festival published a historical document entitled “Cinema and History”, a quarterly magazine issued by the Egyptian film critic Samir Farid between 1992 and 1994 at his expense. A rare magazine that is available, for the first time, in two volumes comprising 1690 pages, but it is officially as if it has not been published; Because it is devoid of the deposit number, despite the fact that the Egyptian General Book Organization, the official publisher, has printed it. The same authority publishes the publications of the Luxor Festival for African Film, and its important books have exceeded twenty, and only some of them give deposit numbers.
I was late reading the book “Publishing in the Arab World”, which begins with random deposit numbers, and does not refer to the intransigence of the security bureaucracy. Among its victims is the 25th issue of the non-periodic “Maraya Book.” The Maraya House for Cultural Production issued a statement refusing the National Library and Documentation House to give a deposit number for the new issue.
The book has issued 24 issues with deposit numbers since 2017, and the publisher was informed of the need to obtain a monthly magazine license. Financial impotence, throwing the baton of power into a civil cultural wheel to stop and extinguish it. The issue includes studies on the Egyptian working class and its formation since the end of the nineteenth century until now, as part of a file marking the centenary of the establishment of the first labor union in 1921.
The number of copies of cultural magazines in Egypt ranges between one and three thousand. A modest number compared to 103 million citizens. An absolute authority that fears a serious magazine, among more than 50 newspapers and magazines, and government and private satellite channels, whose number I do not know, competing in praising real and illusory achievements, and does not allow a different opinion.
The good people may think that the publishing industry walks with blessing, and personal diligence according to the capabilities of this publisher or that, is governed by a fist run by a small mind that fears the word, and does not allow publishing to turn into a heavy professional industry, in the context of a monopoly of power and its tools, including money pumped into tactical media outlets. Publishing is a quality industry that requires free sun. The alternative is shade plants.
Customs administrations consider inks and paper to be commercial commodities, “not basic industry production tools,” says the author, who sees publishing as a complex industry, and Arab countries do not specify the percentage of the book industry’s contribution to public income.
After the 1973 war, Arab economies grew, and were not reflected in the publishing industry, due to the disruption of the education system and its impact on the volume of demand for reading. There are popular versions of the harvest of Internet chats and gossip, “This type of literature is my time and his book is disappearing with time.” Because of the lack of belief in the citizen’s right to know, the Arab children’s book industry has declined by about 35 percent in the last five years. Threat to publishing houses specialized in children’s books in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
Readers of books will pity the publisher, who is faithful to an industry burdened with censorship, bureaucracy, and authoritarian practices no less than the suffering of the authors from the publishers, and the publishers’ complaints of forgers, each putting his hand in the pocket of the other.
I conclude my speech with a professional case that has not been established in the Arab world, which is the editor whom some confuse with the publishing director and the language corrector. A tradition that, in the West, does not provoke the sensibilities of authors, because the intelligent editor plays a professional role, and does not feel inferior as a frustrated author. I have one experience; In one of my novels, a publishing director acting as editor and proofreader saw the words “a nerve of shame.” He thought I had made a mistake, and he fixed it, and “an outburst of anger” surprised me. I ridiculed his indulgence of the verbally offensive noise, and brought the nudity back to the nerve, and it was over.