A Revolution in Print

American University in Cairo Press Looks Back at the Tahrir Protests

The rock that crashed through Mark Linz's office window this January now sits in that office in pride of place next to a piece of the Berlin Wall, to commemorate the days "Egyptians lost their fear." Linz, the director of the American University of Cairo Press, occupies an office that overlooks the now world-famous Tahrir Square. He describes the atmosphere of the protests as very historic, very Middle Eastern, but also, tasting a bit of Woodstock, and the hope and freedom associated with that idea—even down to the uncommon rain that battered the Tahrir crowds.

The Press's offices were broken into and ransacked during the early, violent stage of the protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak, seemingly by security forces seeking a path to the building's roof. Staff found shell casings and empty teargas canisters littering the roof when they returned the following week. This stage of violence that shut down the press also happened to be on the eve of the Cairo International Book Fair—which Mubarak was scheduled to open. Boxes of books waited at the Expo center a few miles from the city. Publishers tentatively set up their booths. Staff from AUCP made the twohour trek by foot to investigate, but the hall remained under wraps until the event was finally cancelled.

But the press and its bookstore abut Tahrir Square, to which thousands of protesters were still flocking daily. Upon returning to the offices on February 13, the press decided to host a Tahrir Book Fair instead—and in less than two months. They scrapped their latest catalog, which had been printed just in time for the Cairo Fair, reprinting it with a cover photo of celebrations in the square and with Alaa Al Aswany's well-timed book of essays on contemporary politics (itself quickly reprinted with a new post-revolution introduction), On the State of Egypt, taking the lead. Books sent for the Cairo event by a number of international publishers were transferred to AUCP, and on March 31 the Tahrir Book Fair was inaugurated.

Director Mark Linz writes of the fair's success: "We had invited both publishers and booksellers of Cairo to exhibit and expected the established cultural community as well as many young 'revolutionaries' to attend. In the end we had about 100 exhibitors and several thousand visitors buying books, listing to readings and musical performances—and surviving a light earthquake, a massive rain shower, and major (peaceful) demonstrations nearby."

The press is well-positioned for the quickly changing state of affairs in Egypt, with a deep, respected backlist in contemporary Egyptian politics, economy, and culture. Not only was Al Aswany's book on press, but Galal Amin's Egypt in the Era of Hosni Mubarak, 1981-2011 was on schedule for a March release. By the beginning of March, the press tallied 14 titles, either already underway or newly signed, directly relevant to the post-revolution era.

Now the Press is looking forward, gathering an editorial advisory board for a new Tahrir Studies publishing project. The goal of the project is to bring academic rigor and understanding to the roots, the events, and the long-term effects of the incredible changes that are sweeping the region. A colleague, remembering Mark Linz's background in religious publishing, jokes that he has gone from publishing Revelation to publishing revolution (with a good number of humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and other specialties in between). To listen to Linz speak of these recent days, and the flowering of hope and plans for the future all around him in his adopted home, this is a change to be embraced.

Meanwhile, the AUC Press continues celebrating its 50th anniversary with gala evenings for authors, booksellers, and university trustees; with the opening of a new academic bookstore and gallery of modern art; and with awards, exhibitions, concerts, book signings, and more. As for Egypt, Linz thinks that people feel free. There has been a change of consciousness: for example, Egyptians are no longer self-censoring in conversations with their neighbors and friends. Hope—and pride in the young people who led this revolution—is the overwhelming emotion.

Regan Colestock
Communications Coordinator

Brenna McLaughlin
Electronic & Strategic Initiatives Director, AAUP