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Iranians snap up titles at Tehran Book Fair

From Ali Rezvani
Gulf News
May 4, 2000

Tehran's 13th international book fair opened yesterday to thousands of eager Iranians who queued at the gates hours before opening time to snag the latest titles usually not available to them in bookshops. The fair showcased some 100,000 titles from 1,300 local publishers and 430 foreign publishers from 35 countries, some participating for the first time like Kuwait. The fair, which covers the sprawling International Fairground in northern Tehran, will last for ten days, officials said. President Mohammed Khatami inaugurated it on Tuesday.

"Some people came at 6am to be sure to buy books which often are in limited numbers," said Ahmad, a Tehran university student who only gave his first name. He was among the first to cross the gates and headed immediately to a pavilion for English language books.

The fair has opened at a tough time for the publishing business as hardliners, striving to stifle Khatami's reformist measures, have recently imprisoned several reformist journalists and shut down 17 publications.

The hardliners, who say they are worried the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution are being eroded, blame the reformist newspapers for building up the support which brought Khatami to the presidency in 1997.

There were no booths for the newspapers like in previous years as the publishers decided to boycott the fair in protest of the ban on their publications. But German publishers have made a comeback after a ten-year hiatus in protest of the fatwa on writer Salman Rushdie. Germany has invited Iran last October for the Frankfurt International Book Fair as relations between the two countries have improved after January1s release of German businessman Helmut Hofer.

Hofer was arrested in September 1997 for an affair with an Iranian Muslim woman and was sentenced to death in January 1998. But an Iranian court last October acquitted him of adultery for insufficient proof after the Iranian Supreme Court ordered a retrial. He was later acquitted in another trial of espionage and insulting his guard.

And for the first time, Kuwait has taken part in the fair as Iran tries to build confidence with Gulf Cooperation Council states. Tehran and Kuwait are set to sign a security agreement to fight organised crime.

But problems arose as fair officials decided that no books published before 1997 can be shown, a critical situation for the Kuwaiti publishers who only had old books to offer. "We were informed late that we can not display the books which have been published before 1997," Abdullah Ali Motiri, the director of Kuwaiti pavilion, told Gulf News.

"About 90 of the 166 cultural, scientific and philosophy titles we have brought have been published before 1997. But I hope our problems for selling old books will be solved after a meeting with (Culture Minister Ataollah) Mohajerani," he added.

And not all fair goers were impressed. "It is the worst book exhibition I have seen," Morteza Khani, an English language student, said. "The publishers did not bring new books. The Cambridge, for instance, did not even offer the books which it displayed last year," Khani added.

Many others complained of the book prices, which despite government subsidies, remain beyond the means of average Iranians who earn the equivalent of $100. Several books at the equivalent of $3 each are a luxury. "The foreign books are very expensive and I cannot afford the prices even if I used the government subsidies," said Qafari, a PhD student.


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