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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 09:45 GMT
Book fair opens amid controversy
Injured student in riots (2000)
The government fears a repeat of last year's protests
By Heba Saleh in Cairo

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has inaugurated this year's Cairo international book fair, which officials say should attract seven million visitors.


Journalists, film makers and writers have accused the government of giving in without a fight to Islamists

But the event comes against a background of blazing rows between Egypt's intellectuals and the government.

The dispute started earlier this month when the culture minister sacked one of his senior officials for allowing the publication of three novels containing sexually explicit passages.

Journalists, film makers and writers have accused the government of giving in without a fight to Islamists who want to impose their norms on the country's cultural life.

The official was dismissed two days after a deputy from the Muslim Brotherhood raised questions about the novels.

'Pornographic'

The culture minister defended the sacking, describing the novels as pornographic.

But intellectuals fear he has set a dangerous precedent that will permit Islamists to demand more censorship.

Observers believe the government's firm response was motivated by fears that the Islamists would exploit the issue to provoke unrest on the streets.

They say the authorities were shocked last year when students demonstrated after an Islamist newspaper protested against a novel alleged to be blasphemous.

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18 May 00 | Middle East
Egypt blasphemy row deepens
08 May 00 | Middle East
A new Salman Rushdie?
12 May 00 | Middle East
Cairo book protesters released
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