ALGIERS—Publishers are celebrating the return of the Algiers International Book Fair in physical form after a two-year absence because of Covid-19. But they’re not happy about a decision to require visitors to show written proof of two Covid-19 vaccinations before they can enter.
The 25th Algiers International Book Fair will run from March 24 to April 1 under the slogan “The Book Is the Bridge of Memory.”
Organisers and Algerian authorities have taken several steps to help ensure its success. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune decided to exempt publishing houses from paying rental fees for suites, the Algerian Ministry of Culture and Arts said in a statement.
The fair also extended its run for a day, until April 1 instead of March 31, to give students who have examinations that week more time to attend.
The organisers have also launched a digital platform that will allow people to buy books remotely, and they have created parallel cultural events in all Algerian provinces through the network of public libraries and mobile libraries to coincide with the fair’s events. There will also be competitions for children and young people under the slogan, “The Book on the Street.”
“The Ministry of Culture is sticking to its condition that attendees bring written proof of two Covid-19 vaccinations within a given time because they believe it will prevent the failure of this year’s fair.”Rafeeq Taibi
An Algerian writer
The writer Abla Belamri told Al-Fanar Media that “launching the digital platform and creating cultural activities alongside events suggest this year’s book fair should satisfy Algerian book lovers’ desires.”
Honouring Italy and Algerian Martyrs
The fair’s governor, Muhammad Iqrib, told Al-Fanar Media he was expecting 1,000 exhibitors from 32 Arab and foreign countries at this year’s fair. He is hoping for an increase in Arab participation because of the exemption on paying rent for suites.
Iqrib said the fair will also feature appearances by prominent writers like Ibrahim Nasrallah, a Palestinian who born and brought up in a Jordanian refugee camp, and the Italian novelist Riccardo Nicolai.
Italy was chosen as the guest of honour, Iqrib said, because the country was one of the most prominent supporters of Algeria’s quest for independence from French rule, especially after the Algerian revolution of November 1954. He also praised the “global reputation of Italian publishing houses.”
To mark the fair’s return, the organisers have included events discussing how to adapt to a worldwide emergency like the pandemic. Experts and specialists will take part in the session “Writing in the Time of the Pandemic.” The session will also honour literary and academic figures who have died in the last two years.
Controversy Over the Health Protocol
The Ministry of Culture’s decision to demand proof of Covid-19 vaccinations, despite a decline in the number of new cases reported daily, sparked controversy.
The Algerian writer Rafeeq Taibi told Al-Fanar Media, “The Ministry is sticking to its condition that attendees bring written proof of two Covid-19 vaccinations within a given time because they believe it will prevent the failure of this year’s fair.”
“Launching a digital platform and creating cultural activities alongside events suggest this year’s book fair should satisfy Algerian book lovers’ desires.”Abla Belamri
An Algerian writer
Taibi called on the authorities to drop this condition and be satisfied with the strict application of mask wearing and social distancing precautions, along with providing hand disinfectants.
“It is unreasonable for a visitor to the fair from the southernmost states to travel a distance of more than 1,000 kilometers and then be surprised to be prevented from entering because he has not been vaccinated.”
The Algerian Publishers’ Association, in a statement, also called on authorities to abolish the entry requirement. The association had previously asked for the fair to be postponed, but it rescinded that request after the Algerian presidency’s decision to exempt publishing houses from paying to rent suites.
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The association also asked the Ministry of Education to move school holiday and exam schedules during the fair, since a budget has been put aside for children’s participation.
In a statement, the association said the Algiers International Book Fair usually had more than a million visitors. “Algerians are always thirsty for books and knowledge creativity in all its forms.”
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