CAIRO: The Paris book fair opened on Friday with an absence of Arab and Muslim authors in protest of the fair’s decision to name Israel as this year’s honoree to mark the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary.
The fair was opened by visiting Israeli president Shimon Peres who described the Arab reaction as “the most ridiculous thing I have heard in my life.
Head of the Arab Writers’ Union Mohamed Salmawy told Daily News Egypt that a boycott was not called for but a protest was more effective because of the political – rather than literary – implications of the event.
“The Israeli lobby is painting it as ‘look how backwards the Arabs are, culture is not to be boycotted.’ This is not true because the Paris book fair has always had Israeli writers and authors and no one ever objected . authors don’t boycott authors . But when you say the guest of honor is Israel that is another story, said Salmawy.
The reason for the protest, Salmawy continued, was that the fair was celebrating a political occasion.
“You are celebrating the state of Israel, not its authors .when there is a guest of honor, there is a focus on the country and all its history and all this is political and that is what we are protesting. They accuse us of imposing politics on literature, but that is not true. It is the fair that has done that, he added.
As Head of the Arab Writers Union, Salmawy had submitted a memorandum of protest to the French Ambassador in Egypt to be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We are protesting that Israel is a guest of honor when it is violating all the cultural and civilizational values of this book fair, he said, “the infrastructure of culture and education – schools – has been destroyed in the Occupied Territories and all this does not require a celebration. According to Salmawy, not only foreign writers had decided to boycott the fair, but some Israeli ones as well, including the poet Aharon Shabtai who said he “will not go under the flag of occupation.
The fair opened Friday and ends next Wednesday.