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Cairo Book Fair 2024: Speech at the Opening of Norway's Guest of Honour Program

Speech given by Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess at the opening of the Guest of Honor stand at the Cairo International Book Fair, Egypt, Thursday 25 January 2024.

Ladies and gentlemen

In his Nobel Lecture in 1988, Egypt’s Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz stated:

‘I am the son of two civilizations that at a certain age in history have formed a happy marriage. The first of these, seven thousand years old, is the Pharaonic civilization; the second, one thousand four hundred years old, is the Islamic civilization’.

The span of Egyptian culture is extraordinary. Unlike other ancient civilisations, it remains very present today, thanks to its tangible legacy and many contributions to the arts and sciences.

The Cairo International Book Fair is the most important book fair in the Arabic-speaking world, and it is a great privilege for Norway to have been invited as the Guest of Honour. I would like to thank the Minister of Culture, Her Excellency Neveen Al-Kilany, and the Director of the Book Fair, Dr Ahmed Bahi El Din, for giving Norway this opportunity. Thank you so much!

Our Guest of Honour programme will showcase Norway’s diverse range of literary voices. We hope to expand the dialogue on Norwegian and Egyptian perspectives, values and ways of thinking, and bring Egypt and Norway even closer.

Culture creates understanding and build bridges across borders and language. Norway’s presence today in Cairo is a continuation of our previous visits to modern Egypt. Like literature, architecture also can generate strong connections between people. In 2002, the architects at the Norwegian company Snøhetta in Oslo finished their work after creating the spectacular library in Alexandria. The unique building is a good example of cultural cooperation across borders, and the library has influenced the lives of millions of visitors. Norwegians are very proud of this small piece of Norway in Egypt.

Today, it is impossible not to think about the desperate situation close to Egypt's borders. I am deeply saddened by the loss of innocent lives and the ongoing suffering. It is heartbreaking.

In difficult times like these, art, literature, and free speech enable us to better grasp all that we have in common. Reading about other people's lives deepens our understanding, increases our capacity for empathy and shows us that others share our thoughts and feelings. The right to freely express opinions and ideas through literature, poetry and art lies at the heart of the right to freedom of expression.

Several of Norway’s foremost authors will be visiting the book fair in the coming days. The writers tell powerful stories about important issues of our time – from climate change to equality to diversity.

The amazing thing about books is that if you are a little boy or a little girl – who is a fan of Mohamed Salah, or you are an Egyptologist, or a crime enthusiast, desperate to get you hands on the latest Jo Nesbø novel – there is a book for you!

We can all find literature that inspire us, quench our thirst for knowledge, entertainment or understanding of the human condition – through the written word. That is why I love books. They remind us of who we are.

To ensure all this, we need translators! Translating books from a small language, like Norwegian into Arabic, is very challenging. I greatly admire the translators who carry out this demanding and vital job – like the works of Norway’s Jon Fosse, last year’s Nobel laureate.

We will work to further strengthen the focus on translation, including ensuring that more Arabic literature is translated into Norwegian. I am very pleased that the Agency for Norwegian Literature Abroad – NORLA, together with the House of Literature in Oslo, has plans to present Arabic and Egyptian literature to a wider Norwegian audience as a follow-up to this book fair.

Children and young people are the hearts and minds of our common future, and we need to inspire them to read more, to get insight and knowledge and to develop a love for language and literature.

Therefore, I am thrilled that our program highlights Norwegian children’s and young adult literature. Norwegian authors are unafraid to write about difficult issues, often in ways that are bold and daring – but also entertaining for their young readers.

I will soon give the floor to Norway’s acclaimed author Jostein Gaarder, who is sitting here, and Dr Ahmed Bahi El Din. But before that, I would like to conclude by thanking the Cairo International Book Fair – together with the Agency for Norwegian Literature Abroad – NORLA, the Norwegian Institute for Children’s Books and the Munch Museum in Oslo – for their efforts in making this historic event possible.

I am confident that the next two weeks will be enriching for everyone attending the book fair. I hope this will pave the way for new opportunities for cooperation between publishers and book industries in the Arabic-speaking world and Norway to help to enhance cultural ties between our countries.

And I hereby declare the official programme of Norway as Guest of Honour at the Cairo Book Fair to be opened.

Thank you.



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