Tanmia started publishing books by authors from outside Egypt in 2016, he said, “after realizing the readers’ thirst for Arabic works that won major literary prizes.”
Lotfy started in this regard with the novel “Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba” by the Palestinian writer Rabai Al-Madhoun after it won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
The prestigious award, sometimes called “the Arab Booker,” is funded by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. Each of the six writers whose novels reach the short list for the award receives a $10,000 prize, and the winner receives an additional $50,000. Despite its nickname, however, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is “completely independent” of the London-based Booker Prize, its website says. (See a related article, “Arab Women Writers Struggle to Get the Readers They Deserve.”)
After about five years of printing Arabic works in Egypt, Lotfy confirms the strategy’s success. Providing Egyptian editions of some Arabic books “helped make valuable books available to the Egyptian reader at reasonable prices,” he said.
Lotfy also believes that the Egyptian editions have “helped to a great extent in fighting the book forgery mafia” and have allowed authors to “communicate with wider circles through signing parties with Egyptian readers.”
The Appeal of the Egyptian Market
Some authors are grateful for such opportunities. “Is there an Arab writer who does not wish his words to reach Egypt?” asks the Iraqi novelist Inaam Kachachi. Answering her own question, she adds: “Cairo was and will remain the center of gravity in the Arab cultural balance.”
The General Authority for Culture Palaces, a government agency that provides books at subsidized prices, issued an Egyptian edition of Kachachi’s “Al Nabizah” (“The Outcast”) this year. The novel, her fourth, was short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2019.
Its publication in Egypt ” made me happy,” Kachachi said, “because the novel was sold for less than half a dollar, and this contributed to the interest of many readers to buy and read it.”
The Moroccan poet Hassan Najmi views the Egyptian market as “a source of great temptation for any Arab author.” That’s because of Egypt’s large population (102 million people), he said, “as well as the symbolic position of Egyptian culture, which represents a great cultural incubator for Arabs.”