There is a popular saying in Arab countries: Egyptians write books, Lebanese write books, Iraqis read books.

Although the actual situation is not so absolute, it is not difficult to see that books are indispensable in the lives of Arabs and are their important spiritual food.

 the earliest library

  Several of the world's earliest libraries appeared in the Middle East.

On a clay tablet on the site of Nineveh in what is today Iraq, Assyrian King Barnibal described himself: "I, Ashurbanipal, inspired by Naboo, the god of wisdom, felt the need to read books. Not only can knowledge and skills be expanded, but also a noble bearing and dignity can be developed." Barnibal built the famous Ashurbanipal Library in Nineveh, the ancient capital.

Many historians agree that this is the earliest library in the world.

Ashurbanipal Library has a complete collection of books, including literature, linguistics, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, physics, medicine and astrology, and almost all the knowledge known to mankind at that time.

  The Alexandria Library in Egypt used to be the largest library of books in the world, known as "the sun of the human civilization world". In its heyday, the library had a collection of more than 700,000 volumes, including 120 volumes in the catalogue alone.

Around the 3rd century BC, King Ptolemy I of the Ptolemaic Dynasty tried to make Alexandria the "academic center" of the world at that time, so he established the Library of Alexandria, whose purpose was to "collect books from all over the world". Realize the "World Knowledge Aggregation".

  It is a pity that this "world's brightest pearl of wisdom" later suffered a fire, and the books were swallowed up by the flames.

In 2002, through the joint efforts of UNESCO and the Egyptian government, a brand-new Alexandria library stood on the edge of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, and the ancient library of Alexandria was reborn.

After the completion of the new library, it has received book donations from many countries. The Chinese government donated 556 sets of classics such as "General History of China", "Compendium of Chinese Medicines" and "Twenty-Four Histories", which enriched the library's memory.

Today, the Library of Alexandria is one of the largest in the Middle East and Africa.

The author has visited the library several times for interviews in this library, which is proudly called "the beacon of human knowledge and the intersection of civilization" by Egyptians. The reading room there is often full, even during the epidemic.

"Iraqi Reading"

  Although technically speaking, the Library of Banipal and the Library of Ancient Alexandria were not built by Arabs, they are proud of the fact that these libraries were built on the land where Arabs live today.

Due to historical, political and other reasons, the Middle East has been turbulent for a long time, and some countries are even more prone to conflicts and smoke of gunpowder.

However, the turmoil and war did not stop the Arabs' interest in reading.

The story of "The Bookkeeper of the Beacon Fire" is a vivid and powerful example.

This diary written by the head of the Iraqi National Library, Sadd Iscond, has touched countless readers.

  After Saddam's regime was overthrown, Iskander resolutely decided to end his life in a foreign country and return to Baghdad to take up the post of director of the Iraqi National Library and Archives.

He risked bombings, shootings and kidnappings, guarding books, guarding Iraqi culture.

In 2006, 4 people in the library were assassinated, 2 were kidnapped, and 58 people received death threats.

In 2007, a library staff member died almost every month.

Even so, Iskander was undeterred.

Likewise, the library's readers have not stopped borrowing. According to records, in July of this year, the Iraqi National Library received a total of 503 readers.

Together with the readers, the team of Iskander Beacon Bookkeepers has built a moving landscape that is still thirsty for knowledge during the war and chaos, which is also a vivid interpretation of the saying that "Iraqi people read books".

  In this regard, the author has a profound experience in the interview in Iraq.

In the old city of Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, on Mutanabi Street, named after the great Arab poet of the 10th century, is the oldest bookstore in Iraqi history.

There are old and new bookstores lined up here, and cultural cafes can be seen everywhere. It is not only a good place for intellectuals to buy books, but also a spiritual "habitat" for literati and scholars to meet. It is known as Baghdad's "literary center" and "cultural beacon".

  An Iraqi friend told me that if the area around Avenue Mutanabi is like the "Left Bank" of Paris, France, then the "Sheha Banda" cafe built in 1917 during the Ottoman Empire is equivalent to Paris Saint-Germain Hugo, Hemingway, Sartre, Picasso and other cultural celebrities love the "Floral Cafe" on the avenue.

However, in March 2007, a car bomb attacked the front of the "Sheha Banda" cafe, killing 26 people, including the 4 sons and a grandson of the owner Ali, and the cafe and most of the nearby streets were instantly destroyed. For the sake of flat ground, Ali himself was also buried under the ruins at that time, unconscious.

  After Ali was rescued, he rebuilt the cafe left by his great-grandfather, and carefully decorated it according to the original appearance, trying to restore the former glory of "Sheha Banda".

He said: "Since the establishment of the museum, this has been the place where influential thinkers, politicians and intellectuals of all ages have often met. I want to maintain this tradition and let the cafe reproduce the grand occasion of celebrities gathering." The walls are covered with precious photos of famous Iraqi poets, writers, artists and politicians who visited here.

He also hung pictures of children killed by the blasts prominently behind the cafe counter.

Every day he straightens his back and sits in the store, with a little sadness and vicissitudes in his eyes.

After the opening of the new "Sheha Banda" cafe, cultural celebrities often come here to drink coffee, talk about culture, and seek inspiration for writing, while in the nearby old and new bookstores, a large number of bookworms tirelessly linger.

For a time, the atmosphere of book selection, purchase and reading in Iraq became stronger.

  The Iraqi government also intends to "polish" the "cultural business card" of Mutanabi Street.

Iraq's "Morning News" reported that in December 2021, the capital Baghdad solemnly celebrated the completion of the renovation of Mutanabi Street, the historical center of its book trade. At the celebration ceremony of the completion ceremony of the renovation of Mutanabi Street organized by the Baghdad Municipal Government, colorful of fireworks lit up the sky in Baghdad.

Local media said the new look of Mutanabi Street, which is accompanied by books, galleries, art exhibitions and cultural festivals, reflects "a burgeoning cultural renaissance and is reminiscent of Baghdad being regarded as the cultural capital of the Arab world. golden age".

 "The Lebanese who published the book"

  Lebanon is a small country with a population of less than 7 million and an area of ​​only 10,000 square kilometers, but its publishing industry is very developed.

Khatib, president of the "Digital Future" publishing company located in the center of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, told the author that in Lebanon, at its peak, there were about a thousand large and small publishing companies in the country, and there are still hundreds of them that are still active and engaged in publishing throughout the country. The industry employs tens of thousands of people.

This is also a source of great pride for all Lebanese, including Khatib.

Because Lebanon has a free society, a strong cultural atmosphere, and a relaxed environment for publishing and distributing books, its publishing industry is far ahead of other Arab countries.

About 8,000 titles are published in Lebanon every year, of which more than 3,000 are new.

Literary books published in Beirut have always been well-known, well-received and sold in all Arab countries.

I can always find literature published in Lebanon in bookstores large and small in Cairo.

Books are beautifully designed and well-wrapped, often making people's eyes shine, and the impulse to buy them suddenly arises.

  Khatib gave the reporter a set of the new book "Encyclopedia of Medical Plants" just released by his publishing company. The book consists of five volumes, hardcover, and extremely finely printed. Each volume is made of different colors. Strong visual impact.

It is worth mentioning that the "Digital Future" publishing company has also persistently published excellent Chinese books. So far, more than 200 Chinese books have been published, with a total of more than 1 million copies.

To this end, Khatib also won the "Youth Achievement Award" of the 11th China Book Special Contribution Award.

 "The Egyptian who wrote the book"

  In contrast to "the Iraqis read books and the Lebanese write books", "the Egyptians write books".

As the cradle and one of the important birthplaces of ancient human civilization, Egypt is the place where the first ray of sunshine of world culture rises and shines. The ancient Egyptians living on both sides of the Nile River gave birth to a dazzling ancient civilization with their wisdom.

  German writer Emil Ludwig (1881-1948), who is known worldwide for his humanizing biographies, wrote in his book "The Nile: River of Life": "The Egyptians' The writing, compared to the Sumerian writing on stone, compared to the cuneiform of the Assyrians, was much more beautiful. Since the mud of the Nile was lost between the fingers of the Egyptians, they used sharp To write with a pen and papyrus is actually to write with a brush, first in a palette and in a clay pot to make black and red, write on a wood cutting board, and then write on a papyrus.” Ludwig also wrote Dao: "As an official, the clerk is powerful and has a high reputation, just like the princes in the old kingdom. Of course, here as in other parts of the world, the opposite of the clerk is the soldier, but only in Egypt, the pen is better than the gun. Zi is stronger because this nation has always been a writing nation and has never been a warlike nation.”

  These words can be called "insightful insights", which deeply grasp the characteristics of the ancient Egyptians, and highlight the importance and leading role of language and writing in their life and culture.

To this day, Egypt is still a country with a high level of culture in the Arab world, the Middle East and Africa, especially the tradition of Egyptians who are good at writing books has been well inherited, and even Egypt has been born so far, the only Arab country among all Arab countries. A Nobel Prize winner for literature, Najib Mahfouz.

Mahafouz is recognized as the "literary giant" and "father of novelists" in the Arab world.

In fact, in Egypt, there are many writers who are not as famous as Mahafouz but their works are equal.

  Besides writing books, Egyptians also like to read.

At the 53rd Cairo International Book Fair held in February this year, 1,063 publishing institutions from more than 50 countries exhibited tens of millions of books, and both the retail and wholesale sales of books exceeded that of last year.

According to local media reports, statistics show that the opening ceremony attracted 96,000 people.

After the first week of the book fair, 530,000 people have visited the exhibition on-site, and at the same time, there are hundreds of millions of online exhibitors through the book fair's dedicated online platform.

  The annual Cairo International Book Fair began in 1969. It is the largest book fair in the Middle East, one of the largest international book fairs in the world, and an important venue for Arabic books around the world.

The author noticed that more than 90% of the books in the book fair are in Arabic, among which there are many books on Egyptian history, geography, culture, literature, archaeology, etc., which are very popular among readers.

Favuzzi, who works in the Cairo Power Supply Bureau, excitedly told the author with a stack of books he just bought that he liked the works of Mahafouz, the Nobel Prize winner for literature. He used to borrow them from the library. At a discount, I bought several tomes in one go, and I can read them slowly in the future.

  During the book fair, a number of special lectures and academic seminars were held on ancient Egyptian civilization, modern literature, cultural exchanges and literary creation.

The book fair also launched a digital book project related to the ancient Egyptian civilization. People can order some of the books on the book fair online through digital platforms.

In addition, the book fair uses a number of cutting-edge technologies and artificial intelligence. Children can read fairy tales through holographic glasses, enjoy immersive reading fun, and receive cultural edification and education.

  (Author: Huang Peizhao)

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