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SIBF: twelve publishers from Morocco at the largest publishing fair in the Arab world

The Alaouite kingdom did not want to miss the Sharjah International Book Fair, with twelve publishers from Rabat, Casablanca, Tangiers, Marrakech and Tetouan
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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS  -   Dar Attaouhidi

Among the more than 2,000 exhibitors taking part in the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) are twelve from Morocco. The neighbouring country, once again this year, did not want to miss this almost obligatory event, as it is the most important in the Arab world.  

Every year, Morocco publishes between 4,000 and 5,000 new titles, generally in Arabic, over 80% of which are in Arabic, followed by books in French and, in very low percentages, in Amazigh, which is the Berber language, and in Spanish. Although publishers highlight the growing interest in Spanish language and culture, the reality is that translations are very few. Even so, Spain is present at some stands, either with authors such as Benito Pérez Galdós or with a Moroccan writer translated into our language. Some publishers are also publishing in English.  

The fact that the Sharjah International Book Fair, as announced by Ahmed bin Rakkad al-Ameri, president of the SBA, has become the largest in the world in terms of the purchase and sale of authors' rights in 2022; the possibility of exchanging experiences and establishing relationships; and making Moroccan heritage, culture and authors known are the main reasons why these publishers are taking part in this great literary showcase.

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Ahmed Marradi
Galdós, Varela and Bécquer

Atalayar has visited the different pavilions to find out who they are, why they are taking part in the SIBF and what they have on display. From Rabat, African Capital of Culture 2022, comes Dar Attaouhidi, a publishing house named after the philosopher Abu Hayyan Attaouhidi, as a tribute to his figure and work. Atalayar is attended by its editor, Ahmed Marradi. He has been attending this fair for ten editions, a key event because "it is an excellent fair, currently the first in the world in the development of author's rights", he assures us. Marradi explained the great interest that exists in this emirate for culture in general, for translations and the high level of education of its people, "they read much more than in North Africa". Another reason that year after year brings him to the emirate is the relationships that are established with other publishers from other countries. 

On the shelves of his stand we can find some works by Benito Pérez Galdós translated into Arabic by Omar Bouachi. Marradi explains that they are from Isadora Ediciones, directed by Rosa Amor del Olmo, one of the great Spanish specialists in the author of the "Episodios nacionales". "Doña Perfecta, Tormento o Marianela" share a place alongside "Genio y figura" by Juan Varela and "Las rimas y declaraciones poéticas" by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. Works that he proudly shows us, such as the first part of the diary of the artist Dean Abdul Wahab al Dakali, "who is the Spanish Julio Iglesias": Something of my life, the trilogy of love and art. 

Also from Rabat is the Dar El Aman publishing house, one of the largest in the city, which specialises in Arabic texts and studies, both in the sciences and the humanities. It was founded in 1983. There are many books by Moroccan authors on display, but its publisher shows us the works of the award-winning Taha Abderrahmane, one of the most renowned philosophers in the Arab-Islamic world. And as a curiosity, the book entitled "Love in the time of potatoes", by the Moroccan journalist Ahmed Hammouche.

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FOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Dar El Aman

Tetouan is represented by the Bab al-Hikma publishing house. Mohammed al Mahboub-Bab welcomes us at his stand. This is the sixth year he has participated, and for him it is important to go to Sharjah, coinciding with Marradi, because it is a leader in the purchase and sale of authors' rights, although he also usually attends other fairs such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. His shelves include books on history and Arab and Islamic heritage, without forgetting Andalusian, he emphasises. Spanish has also arrived here after the translation from Arabic of "Volver a Tetuán", by Abderrahman El Fathi, and "Diario Inconcluso", by Mohamed Bouissef Rekab. 

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Mohammed al-Mahboub-Bab, editor of Bab al-Hikma

Several books written in Arabic but dealing with Spanish themes are also part of his collection. We can read 'El papel de Marruecos en la Guerra Civil española', an important and well documented work, with graphics, photographs and interesting reports, or 'La imagen de Marruecos en la novela española', by Mohammed Anakar.  By the same author is the novel entitled "Barrio de Málaga", which deals with relations between Spain and Tetouan, the different religions, the three cultures, "it is a novel in great demand by Spanish readers", he tells us.  

And from Tetouan to Marrakech, where the ETS AFAQ is based for studies, publishing and communication. We are welcomed by its director, Abdelkader Arabi. For him, this is the first time he has attended the Sharjah Book Fair, an experience that has been positive, although he has not yet decided whether he will return for the next edition. The prestige of this event in the Arab world was one of the reasons why he thought he should be there, and to make Morocco, its history, its culture and its authors better known. However, he stresses that it is mainly a place to establish relationships, exchange experiences and meet other publishers rather than to sell books.  

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Abdelkader Arabi, ETS AFAQ director for studies, publishing and communication 

In his bookshop you can find works on a wide variety of subjects, although history, politics and philosophy predominate, along with more academic research or studies. Among the Moroccan authors are Mohamed Latif and his book on the family, Ebrahim Yassin and Mustafa Arabi, whose Andalusian and Moroccan musical dictionary is of great interest. 

From Casablanca comes Afrique Orient, which, like almost all publishers, publishes mainly in Arabic and French. Its catalogue includes some 500 titles covering different areas of knowledge, from law to economics, politics and health.  Continuing our tour, we came across the stand of the Cultural Centre of the Book, a publishing house founded in 2016, whose managing director is Bassam Kurdi. According to information on the SIBF website, this publishing house has more than 300 titles in its catalogue. Also located in the emirate is the Arab Cultural Centre, which has been operating in Casablanca for more than half a century. It houses more than 500 titles, and stands out, according to the SIBF website, for having published the most significant authors of the Arab world. Dar Errachad el Hadita is another of the publishers and distributors of books from this city, although it was founded in Fez in 1948. It is one of the oldest publishers in Morocco, with more than 72 years of life and a clear vocation. In their exhibition they display books for different audiences and of all kinds, with a special interest in Arab-Muslim heritage.  

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Afrique Orient

And we close the group of publishers from Casablanca with Croisee des Chemins. With almost forty years of experience in the publishing world, their stand, alongside their publications in Arabic, exhibits some works in French and English. Variety is one of its characteristics, which is why, alongside novels, essays, or one of the most universal works of literature, " El principito ", in Arabic, we find very well edited books on nature, heritage or Moroccan cinema. And in the foreground, " Mujeres en la política real, 22 años de reforma ", which was published on the initiative of the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Development, Equality and Family and tells the story of all the achievements of women in Morocco during the years of Mohammed VI's reign. 

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Book Cultural Center

Tangier is another of the cities represented. At the stand of Ediciones Virgule, we are kindly welcomed by two young women who, like the others, stress how important it is to be in Sharjah because of the repercussions it has among Arab countries. They also have some books translated into Spanish. They show us "Tetouan, herencias y ambiciones mediterráneas", published by Axions. Their most outstanding books cover the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Morocco and its beautiful cities. They are large, hard-covered and very well edited, with beautiful photographs. Books about the country are mixed with novels, essays, scientific works...  

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Virgule

For the Slaiki brothers, owners of the Slaiki Akhawayne publishing house, also based in Tangier, this is the eighth edition they have attended as exhibitors. Defenders of the publishing sector and the book industry, they have an important weight in the Moroccan publishing scene. In fact, Tarik Slaiki is currently travelling to Guadalajara, Mexico, which will open the doors of its famous Book Fair with Sharjah as guest of honour.  

Since 1994, in addition to publishing in Arabic, they have been translating both classical books and more contemporary authors into French and Spanish. Tarik Slaiki stresses that this fair is fundamental for publications in Arabic and that it offers advantages such as establishing contacts with publishers from countries all over the world, exchanging ideas and experiences, and getting to know or being able to follow other authors. The Arab Publishers Conference is also important for him.  

In terms of writers, he highlights Mohamed Jebroune, Mustafa Nechat, Rachid al-Affaki and A. Hattam. 

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Slaiki Akhawayne
Reading to promote human values

We leave the Casablanca publisher Yanbow Al Kitab for last, not because it is the least important, but because it is the only one specialising only in children's literature, and because its objectives include instilling a love of reading in young children while creating history through Moroccan heritage. The publisher Yasmine El Kaouakibi tells us about this while she shows us the books on her stand, very careful editions where the illustrations are as important, if not more so, than the texts themselves. One of her favourites: " La búsqueda ", by Baraa Alawoor, which tells the story of a person in search of happiness.  

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Yasmine El Kaouakibi, Editor of Yanbow Al Kitab

This publishing house goes beyond the simple publication of books, as through them and other initiatives it tries to transmit important values to children, such as coexistence, respect for nature, personal development... Its editor, who also speaks of the Sharjah International Book Fair as essential in the Arab world, stresses the need for children to read in order to be more imaginative and creative, but also because "books open windows to the world". Yanbow al-Kitad is committed to solidarity with the design of campaigns such as "One book, one child", "The solidarity reading caravan" and "One library, one family". 

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR/ANTONIA CORTÉS - Croisee des Chemins
Arab Publishers Conference 

The Sharjah International Book Fair was also the setting for the 6th Arab Publishers Conference, organised by the Emirates Publishers Association and the Sharjah Book Authority. This meeting did not go unnoticed by some of the Moroccan publishers, who were aware of the importance of this conference. 

Exchanging experiences, analysing the current situation after the pandemic and establishing strategies to face the new challenges in order to strengthen the regional publishing industry were the main topics discussed. At the meeting, the President of the International Publishers Association (IPA), Bodour al-Qasimi, expressed her hope that Arab publishers would strengthen regional cooperation "to use shared resources to reach more readers around the world and boost growth". 

The Association brings together 86 organisations from 71 countries on five continents. The President, from the United Arab Emirates, is joined as Vice-President by another woman, Karine Pansa from Brazil.