How Gulf Arab states are getting to grips with the energy transition challenge

Special Gulf Arab countries are seeking a model that balances environmental protection with long-term quality of life. (AFP)
Gulf Arab countries are seeking a model that balances environmental protection with long-term quality of life. (AFP)
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Updated 19 August 2022

How Gulf Arab states are getting to grips with the energy transition challenge

Gulf Arab countries are seeking a model that balances environmental protection with long-term quality of life. (AFP)
  • In the past year, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made notable progress in renewable solar, wind and hydrogen power
  • Gulf countries can ensure both a thriving economy and an environment that supports a high quality of life

DUBAI: Even before the Ukraine war began, one thing became clear quickly — that demand for conventional energy was not going away. Now, with Brent crude hovering around $107 per barrel and natural gas costing $6.95 per MMBtu amid heightened risks of supply disruptions, the impending fiscal windfall gives the Gulf Arab states extra resources to accelerate their transformation into “green economies.”

From ambitious “circular carbon economy” and net-zero emission pledges to investments in renewables and electric vehicle production, the past year has already witnessed the launch of numerous initiatives by these energy-exporting countries in response to calls for accelerated action for combating climate change.

At the same time, the Gulf region has made notable progress in the development of utility-scale solar and wind power, including phase three of the Mohammed bin Rashid solar project in Dubai completed last year and the inauguration of Saudi Arabia’s first wind farm at Dumat Al-Jandal.

“These are breakthrough moments which build momentum through knowledge and experience,” Francesco La Camera, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, better known as IRENA, told Arab News.

“These low-cost renewables projects also open the door to the production of cost-competitive green hydrogen. We believe hydrogen will have a pivotal role to play in the decarbonization of the energy system.”

IRENA’s “World Energy Transitions Outlook” shows hydrogen could account for 12 percent of total final energy consumption globally by the middle of the century, up from today’s marginal levels.

“There are already clear signals of intent from the region to capture these market opportunities, which may prove to be a new and important aspect of the transition that the region can apply its hydrocarbon expertise and experience to,” La Camera said.

In the lead-up to the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow last November, the UAE pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to invest up to $160 billion in clean and renewable energy solutions.

The previous month, Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives, committing the Kingdom to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2060 and to plant 10 billion trees over the coming decades, rehabilitate 8 million hectares of degraded land, and allocate new protected areas.

More recently, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Abu Dhabi National Energy Company announced they would join the UAE’s state-owned holding company Mubadala as shareholders in the clean-energy company Masdar.




The Gulf enjoys an ideal climate for solar power expansion. (Shutterstock)

The partnership is designed to increase Masdar’s renewable energy capacity to 50 gigawatts by 2030 and to create a global clean energy powerhouse, with a focus on areas such as green hydrogen and renewables.

Similar developments are taking place in Saudi Arabia, including several projects in NEOM — the Kingdom’s smart city on the Red Sea coast — most notably the launch of Oxagon, the world’s largest floating industrial complex.

“The Oxagon project is a revolutionary idea looking at reshaping the way industries work at the gateway of the most popular shipping channel in the world, powered by 100 percent renewable energy, and requiring extensive levels of symbiosis between various industries,” Daniel Gribbin, corporate sustainability lead at WSP Middle East, told Arab News.

“The region’s drive to a more sustainable future is no secret. Levels of transparency and individual consumer behaviors, along with the vision of regional leaders, have accelerated the need to respond and act, so that they can have a seat at the global table.

“Demand for sustainability considerations from international investors has also been a propelling force for raising ESG awareness in the regional market, contributing toward valuation and reputation.”




A view of Jubail Desalination Plant at the Jubail Industrial City, about 95 kilometers north of Dammam in Saudi Arabia's eastern province. (AFP/File Photo)

The past year has witnessed a sea change in the regional approach to climate action, according to Nawal Al-Hosany, the UAE’s permanent representative to IRENA.

At COP26, for instance, the UAE announced a number of landmark pledges and partnerships to raise ambitions, including the UAE-IRENA Energy Transition Accelerator Financing platform, which aims to raise $1 billion to accelerate renewable-energy transition in developing countries.

The UAE, through the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, has already pledged $400 million in anchor funding to the platform.

“We also announced the Hydrogen Leadership Roadmap, which seeks to establish the country as a competitive global hydrogen exporter,” Al-Hosany told Arab News.

“Looking ahead to COP27 in Egypt, and COP28 in the UAE in 2023, the impetus for climate action will continue to create a ripple effect across the Middle East.”

INNUMBERS

* $120 Projected oil price per barrel if Russian oil flow is disrupted.

* $6.95 Current natural gas price per MMBtu.

La Camera describes the energy transition as an unstoppable megatrend, underpinned by innovation and motivated by the pursuit of long-term prosperity and climate action.

“GCC countries recognize this opportunity and are acting accordingly,” he told Arab News.

“It is also important to recognize that the Gulf region is positioning itself as a serious player in the global energy transition because its leaders understand their hydrocarbon resource wealth and vast clean energy potential presents them with an opportunity to build a resilient economy around knowledge, clean technologies and long-term energy leadership.”

Al-Hosany thinks hydrocarbons will continue to play an integral role in the energy system for decades to come, as managing an equitable and inclusive energy transition will be critical to turning the tide of climate change.

“We must rethink the balancing act of economic growth and sustainable development,” she said.




A Saudi employee fills the tank of his car with petrol at a station in Jeddah. (AFP/File Photo)

“But this transition will not happen overnight. We must shift toward an energy mix that involves renewable and clean energy sources. Though we must move toward the energy system of tomorrow, we cannot simply unplug from the energy system of today. It is not as simple as flicking a switch.”

From desertification to droughts, the Middle East is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. And although every country has its own unique reasons to transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewables, the Gulf region has a lot to gain from the transition, according to La Camera, even if there are uncertainties about the long-term future of hydrocarbon exports.

“Exploiting its vast clean energy resources offers diversified growth and the creation of new jobs well into the 21st century,” he said. “Additionally, let us not forget the perilous situation this region may find itself in should global temperatures continue to rise unabated.”

La Camera said that the climate crisis “is likely to send regional average temperatures to around double the global average this century while increasing pressure on already scarce water supplies. This is a profound and very real threat that the region cannot solve alone, but it must be part of the solution.”

Gribbin believes there is no “silver bullet” to the challenge facing humanity. As such, policymakers, companies and individuals must work together to find shared solutions.

“Investment in the solutions to the challenges we face with climate change is not only good for humanity but is also smart business,” he said.

“Individual drivers and consumer behavior have changed, and the demand for ‘green’ and sustainable products is only going to increase. As a region that is extremely reliant on imports, particularly for food, and that has contributed to the proliferation of hydrocarbons, early investment is key in ensuring that we are part of the solution.”

By acting now, Gribbin said, the region will ensure it has both a thriving economy and an environment that can support a high quality of life for generations to come.

The invasion of Ukraine has the potential to accelerate the global trend toward renewables, with Europe expected to drastically reduce its reliance on Russian natural-gas supplies. If Gulf countries use their fiscal surpluses to fast-track the development of renewable-energy, hydrogen, ammonia-export and carbon-capture projects, they will emerge well prepared for the post-oil age.

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Twitter: @CalineMalek

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Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage
Updated 18 sec ago

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage
  • Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution

TEHRAN: Social media images purported to be of an emaciated jailed Iranian dissident on hunger strike have caused outrage online as supporters warned on Friday he risks death for protesting the compulsory wearing of the hijab.
Farhad Meysami, 53, who has been in jail since 2018 for supporting women activists protesting against Iran’s headscarf policy, began his hunger strike on Oct. 7 to protest recent government killings of demonstrators, the dissident’s lawyer said.
The images of Meysami went viral on social media on the same day Iran released award-winning director Jafar Panahi on bail after seven months in jail. Panahi said the images of Meysami reminded him of survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Iran’s judiciary denied the hunger strike claim and said the photos were from four years ago when Meysami, a physician, did go on hunger strike.
As evidence, the semi-official YJC news agency posted what it said was Meysami’s latest photo, in which he does not look emaciated and is sitting on the floor of his prison cell with a bag of what looks like chips next to him.
Reuters was unable to confirm when the pictures were taken.
Iranian authorities released Panahi on bail after he started a hunger strike this week to demand to be freed pending a retrial, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing the Directors Guild of Iran.
There was no official word from Iran’s judiciary on the release, but videos on social media purportedly showed Panahi speaking to well-wishers outside Evin prison.
“The images of Farhad Meysami... remind one of the people in Auschwitz or of (Mahatma) Gandhi, since Meysami has written about non violence,” Panahi said. “Many are left behind bars... so how can I say I feel happy?“
Iranian authorities detained Panahi in July to serve a six-year sentence which a court originally ordered in 2010 for “propaganda against the system.” In October, the ruling was quashed by Iran’s supreme court which ordered a retrial.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Morality police arrested Amini for flouting the hijab policy, which requires women to dress modestly and wear headscarves. Women have played a prominent role in the protests, with many waving or burning their headscarves.
Rights groups say more than 500 protesters have been killed and nearly 20,000 arrested. At least four people have been hanged, according to the Iranian judiciary.
“My client Farhad Meysami’s life is in danger,” tweeted lawyer Mohammad Moghimi. “He went on hunger strike to protest the recent government killings in the streets.” He said Meysami had lost 52 kg (115 lb).
Images show Meysami curled up on what looks like a hospital bed, and another standing, his ribs protruding.
“Shocking images of Dr. Farhad Meysami, a brave advocate for women’s rights who has been on hunger strike in prison,” tweeted Robert Malley, Washington’s special envoy for Iran.
“Iran’s regime has unjustly denied him and thousands of other political prisoners their rights and their freedom. Now it unjustly threatens his life,” he said.
Amnesty International said: “These images (of Meysami) are a shocking reminder of the Iranian authorities’ contempt for human rights.”
In a letter published by BBC’s Persian Service on Thursday, Meysami made three demands: an end to executions, the release of political-civil prisoners and an end to “forced-hijab harassment”.
“I will continue my impossible mission in the hope that it may become possible later on with a collective effort,” he wrote.

 


Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi
Updated 04 February 2023

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi
  • Exiled Nobel-winning former judge speaks out
  • Revolution is a ‘train that will not stop,’ she says

JEDDAH: Protests in Iran over the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman are the start of an irreversible “revolutionary process” that will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime, one of Tehran’s most eloquent critics said on Friday.

Shirin Ebadi, the distinguished Iranian lawyer and former judge who lives in exile in London, said the protests were the boldest challenge yet to the legitimacy of Iran’s clerical establishment.

“This revolutionary process is like a train that will not stop until it reaches its final destination,” said Ebadi, 75, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work defending human rights.

“The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” she told Reuters in a phone interview from London.

Iran’s clerical rulers have faced widespread unrest since Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police on Sept. 16 last year after she was arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire.”

This image grab from a UGC video posted on Feb. 3, 2023, reportedly shows protesters demanding the release of political prisoners during a march in Iran's southeastern city of Zahedan. (AFP)

Iran has blamed Amini's death on existing medical problems and has accused its enemies of fomenting the unrest to destabilise the regime.

For months, Iranians from all walks of life have called for the fall of the clerical establishment, chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Amini’s death has unbottled years of anger among many Iranians over issues ranging from economic misery and discrimination against ethnic minorities to tightening social and political restrictions.

As they have done in the past in the face of protests in the past four decades, Iran’s hard-line rulers have cracked down hard. Authorities have handed down dozens of death sentences to people involved in protests and have carried out at least four hangings, in what rights activists say is a crackdown aimed at intimidating people and keep them off the streets.

BACKGROUND

The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill.

The rights group HRANA said 527 protesters had been killed during unrest, of whom 71 were children, and nearly 20,000 protesters had been arrested.

However, protests have slowed considerably since the hangings began. Videos posted on social mediashowed people chanting “Death to Khamenei” from rooftops in some cities, but nothing on the scale of past months.

Ebadi said the state’s use of deadly violence would deepen anger felt by ordinary Iranians about the clerical establishment because the their grievances remain unaddressed. “The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” she said.

The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill.

To force the regime from power, Ebadi said the West should take “practical steps” such as recalling their ambassadors from Tehran, and should avoid reaching any agreement with Iran, including the nuclear deal. 

With deepening economic misery, chiefly because of US sanctions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear work, many Iranians are feeling the pain of galloping inflation and rising joblessness.

Inflation has soared to over 50 percent, the highest level in decades. Youth unemployment remains high with over 50 percent of Iranians being pushed below the poverty line, according to reports by Iran’s Statistics Center.

(With Reuters)


Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone
Updated 04 February 2023

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone
  • Video taken of the attack showed an explosion at the site after anti-aircraft fire targeted the drones, likely from one of the drones reaching the building’s roof. Iran’s military has claimed shooting down two other drones before they reached the site

TEHRAN: Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press on Friday showed damage done to what Iran describes as a military workshop targeted by Israeli drones, the latest such assault amid a shadow war between the two countries.
While Iran has offered no explanation yet of what the workshop manufactured, the drone attack threatened to again raise tensions in the region. Already, worries have grown over Tehran enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, with a top UN nuclear official warning the regime had enough fuel to build “several” atomic bombs if it chooses.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose earlier tenure as premier saw escalating attacks targeting Iran, has returned to office and reiterated that he views Tehran as his country’s top security threat. With State Department spokesperson Ned Price now declaring Iran has “killed” the opportunity to return to its nuclear deal with world powers, it remains unclear what diplomacy immediately could ease tensions between Tehran and the West.
Cloudy weather had prevented satellite pictures of the site of the workshop since it came under attack by what Iran described as bomb-carrying quadcopters on the night of Jan. 28. Quadcopters, which get their name from having four rotors, typically operate from short ranges by remote control.
Video taken of the attack showed an explosion at the site after anti-aircraft fire targeted the drones, likely from one of the drones reaching the building’s roof. Iran’s military has claimed shooting down two other drones before they reached the site.
Images taken on Thursday by Planet Labs PBC showed the workshop in Isfahan, a central Iranian city some 350 km south of Tehran.
An AP analysis of the image, compared to earlier images of the workshop, showed damage to the structure’s roof. That damage corresponded to footage aired by Iranian state television immediately after the attack that showed at least two holes in the building’s roof.
The Iranian state TV footage, as well as satellite photos, suggest the building’s roof also may have been built with so-called “slat armor.”
The structure resembles a cage built around roofs or armored vehicles to stop direct detonation from rockets, missiles or bomb-carrying drones against a target.
Installation of such protection at the workshop suggests Iran believed it could be a drone target.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in July claimed to have broken up a plot to target sensitive sites around Isfahan.
A segment aired on Iranian state TV in October included purported confessions by alleged members of Komala, a Kurdish opposition party that is exiled from Iran and now lives in Iraq, that they planned to target a military aerospace facility in Isfahan after being trained by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.
It remains unclear whether the military workshop targeted in the drone attack was that aerospace facility.
Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the satellite images and other questions about the workshop.
The attack comes Iran’s theocratic government faces challenges both at home and abroad.
Nationwide protests have shaken the country since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman detained by the country’s morality police.
Its rial currency has plummeted to new lows against the US dollar.
Israel is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iran, including an April 2021 assault on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges.
In 2020, Iran blamed Israel for a sophisticated attack that killed its top military nuclear scientist.
Israel has not commented on this drone attack.
However, Israeli officials rarely acknowledge operations carried out by the country’s secret military units or the Mossad.
A letter published Thursday by Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Amir Saeid Iravani, said that “early investigations suggest that the Israeli regime was responsible for this attempted act of aggression.”
The letter, however, did not elaborate on what evidence supported Iran’s suspicion.

 


Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah
Updated 04 February 2023

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah
  • Party chief threatens to disrupt election over militant menace
  • MP Rifi: ‘Hezbollah has turned Lebanon into terror camp, Captagon lab, murder scene’

The head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, Sami Gemayel, has threatened to disrupt presidential elections if the other parties try to elect a president who would provide cover for Hezbollah’s weapons.

Speaking at the party’s general conference on Friday, Gemayel — a fierce opponent of Hezbollah — said that what was happening was an attempt to change the face of Lebanon.

The opening session of the general conference was attended by anti-Hezbollah political figures, who also expressed opposition to the party’s recent actions.

Gemayel’s parliamentary bloc is the third largest Christian bloc following the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces Party.

They are trying to kill our country by killing freedom, cooperation, democracy, a strong and free economy, and Lebanon’s openness to the world.

Sami Gemayel

“They are trying to kill our country by killing freedom, cooperation, democracy, a strong and free economy, and Lebanon’s openness to the world,” he said.

Gemayel added that the battle today was not against a certain category of Lebanese people, but rather over Christian and Muslim coexistence.

“However, there is a huge group of Christian and Muslim Lebanese, and of all denominations, who believe that Lebanon is a message of civilization and development.

“They also believe in freedom and were born clinging to this freedom.

“Whoever is trying to eliminate the Lebanese spirit is not a group of Lebanese, but rather an armed party that is taking its sect hostage and trying to turn the conflict in Lebanon into a sectarian one,” he said.

Gemayel talked about suspicious land purchases, demographic change, institutional crippling and a systematic attack on free media.

He said: “We could not force the Syrian army to withdraw until we stood hand-in-hand in Martyrs’ Square. Today, we will not be able to preserve Lebanon unless we all unite again.”

Gemayel said that the ruling class handed over the country to Hezbollah under the pretext of defending Christians.

“We had warned against handing over the country to Hezbollah,” he added.

“We warned against economic collapse and international isolation. Some are clearly trying to kick us out of the economic, diplomatic, and political equations, but the true will of the Lebanese people was expressed in the Cedar Revolution and the Oct. 17 Revolution.”

Gemayel added: “Today, there are two states in Lebanon, the Lebanese Republic, and another state, which is the Islamic Republic of Hezbollah, and each state has its own funding, army, and foreign policy.

“The Islamic Republic is trying to put its hand on the pluralistic Lebanese Republic, and we need to fight such attempts. We cannot continue to deal with the dictatorial practices in a traditional manner; compromising with the Islamic Republic has dragged us into this catastrophic situation. We kept making one concession after the other, one settlement after the other.

“From this moment on, we refuse to submit to Hezbollah’s will."

Gemayel continued: “We call on all the Lebanese to assume their responsibilities, and we want Hezbollah to know that we will no longer accept this status quo.

“If a divorce between the two states is inevitable, then so be it. Hezbollah ought to announce it, but we will not accept living like second-class citizens. We will not submit; we will resist.

“The Kataeb Party is not a fan of war. We support the state and the army, but if anyone dares approach our homes, we will defend ourselves,” he added.

On the second anniversary of the assassination of researcher Lokman Slim, who was known for his outspoken opposition to Hezbollah, Gemayel noted: “We know that no trial will ever be held to shed light on Slim’s assassination.”

He added: “We thus know the extent of intimidation to which the Lebanese who oppose Hezbollah are subjected.”

Slim’s family and friends commemorated the second anniversary of his assassination on Friday in the absence of an indictment from the Lebanese judiciary.

Slim had told the public that he was receiving death threats from Hezbollah prior to his assassination in southern Lebanon.

MP Ashraf Rifi said: “They are trying once again to impose a president and government by taking advantage of the vacuum and making threats.

“Lebanon was an icon in the East, but the axis of evil turned it into a terror camp, a Captagon lab, and a murder scene. They are now seeking to elect a puppet to continue controlling the country.”

 

 


Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
Updated 03 February 2023

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
  • To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services

CAIRO: Thousands of Egyptian bibliophiles weave through a labyrinthine display of books, reviving an annual tradition at the Arab world’s largest book fair, but this year it comes at a steep cost.
The 54th Cairo International Book Fair was overshadowed by a punishing economic crisis that has seen Egypt’s currency, the pound, halve in value and prices skyrocket in the past year.
Organzers say the fair lured more than half a million visitors on its opening weekend alone — but with publishing houses already struggling to cover the rising cost of printing, many fear this will not translate to sales.
“We expected a much smaller turnout this year than we had,” said Wael Al-Mulla, one of more than 800 publishers at the fair.
Budgets are tight in Egypt, where inflation hit 21.9 percent in December, forcing many to dip into their savings to cover ever-rising daily costs.

BACKGROUND

Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.

“Books are a luxury product,” said Mulla, who heads the Masr El-Arabia publishing house. “They’ll inevitably be less of a priority when people need to budget for the basics.”
A steep currency devaluation has compounded costs for import-dependent publishers, leading many to hike the price of books by up to double.
“You could once come with 2,000 pounds (now $66) and fill a suitcase with books,” said Mohamed El-Masry, CEO of El-Rasm Bel Kalemat Publishing.
“You can’t do that any more,” the 38-year-old lamented.
To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services.
State-owned publishers have also offered heavily discounted Arabic classics for under 30 pounds, or $1.
According to sellers, readers — eager for their annual haul despite the crisis — are deploying new methods to lessen the burden.
“We see most people coming with their friends as a group. They’ll decide what they want, divide the books among themselves and then pass them around,” said Abdallah Sakr, 33, a publishing manager at El-Mahrousa.
“Everyone’s surprised when they see the prices, but there’s still a desire to read. So instead of buying five books they’ll get two, or one instead of two,” he added.
To survive the crisis, publishing houses have grown more selective.
As the pound plummeted, the price of basic paper stock — all imported — quadrupled, forcing publishers to “decrease commissions and print fewer books per edition”, Mulla said.
“I have to be very careful with my choice of books, only picking the titles I’m really sure will be popular.”
Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.
“Some publishing houses have had to downsize to the bare minimum, or halt activities until the economic landscape is a little clearer,” Mulla said, noting some had already had to shut down their presses permanently.
In a corner of the fair, vendors from the city’s well-known Azbakeya second-hand book market appeared unfazed by the economic downturn.
Nestled against the walls of the historic Azbakeya Garden, the stalls have for over a century sold used books, as well as pirated prints, for a fraction of the prices elsewhere.
As in past years, the booksellers have carted their innumerable volumes from the bustling market in central Cairo to the polished new exhibition centre on the city’s outskirts.
Like hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, 39-year-old Mohamed Shahin “made a beeline” for the Azbakeya booksellers with his family in tow, he said.
“This is the most popular place at the fair, even though the good books sell out quick because there aren’t a lot of copies,” 18-year-old engineering student and volunteer Malak Farid said.
Mohamed Attia, an imam in his 40s, travels to Cairo for the fair every year from his hometown of Dakahlia, some 150 km north of the capital.
With most volumes going for less than one dollar, the Azbakeya market has long been a treasure for Attia, and now it has become a necessity.
“Books are so much more expensive this year,” he said.
But, he added with relief, “prices in Azbakeya have remained the same” — a rare boon in today’s economic climate.