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The Maghreb of books in Paris, literature as an antidote to withdrawals


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The event poster.

It is a precious ritual to the faithful public. Once a year, Paris City Hall becomes the “capital” of Maghrebian books in France. This unparalleled meeting in Europe will take on particular importance this year at a time when the French polls are showing a growing temptation to withdraw.

From May 13 to 15, the 28and Maghreb edition of books – expanded since 2018 in Maghreb-Orient of books – will make it possible to reconnect with a well-established tradition of debates, literary cafés, meetings with authors, film screenings and musical performances that the Covid-19 crisis had badly abused. Without forgetting the strolls in the shelves of a huge bookstore erected under the high ceilings of the village hall where – rare occasion – publishing houses from beyond the Mediterranean can exhibit their titles.

For a big weekend, it is the Maghreb and the Mashreq together who indulge in the heart of Paris through words, ideas, images and melodies, a thousand leagues from the simplistic simplism too often conveyed About them.

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Event Partner, The World Africa will accompany this new beginning by hosting three round tables. Opened by an inaugural conference by the novelist Alice Zeniter, the three-day meeting will mix discussions around a rich range of themes: the legacy of the Algerian war, the Maghreb Sahara, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the documentation of the war in Syria, the Mediterranean dialogue through books, the difficult integration through school in France, jihadism in literature, the misfortunes of the Arab spring… Posthumous tributes will also be paid to the founder of the New Observer, Jean Daniel, the singer Idir and the bookseller and publisher Marie-Louise Belarbi.

An adventure of more than a quarter of a century

This Maghreb-Orient of books is the fruit of an adventure of more than a quarter of a century which owes a great deal to Georges Morin and his association Coup de soleil. Pied-noir from Constantine who became an activist for Franco-Algerian cooperation, this former collaborator of the socialist Louis Mermaz – ex-minister (1990-1993) and president of the National Assembly (1981-1986) – had mounted Sunstroke in 1985 with friends linked, in one way or another, to the Maghreb in the context of the rise of the National Front and the growing tensions around the questions of integration. “The idea was to make the Maghreb better known in France in order to dispel the fear of North Africans and French people of North African origin. “, he explains.

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In this spirit, the Algerian novelist Rachid Mimouni and the Franco-Moroccan publisher Marie-Louise Belarbi convinced him to launch a literary festival which was born in 1994 with the help of the National Book Center (CNL).

First hosted in district town halls, the event took on a whole new dimension in 2001 when Bertrand Delanoë, newly elected mayor of Paris, offered to host it within the City Hall itself. This first Maghreb edition of “new look” books saw the number of visitors double, going from 3,000 to 6,300 visitors. She stands, already, under the sign of “fight against obscurantism” six weeks after the September 11 conflagration.

Remobilization of donors

Since then, this agora of North African books has become part of the capital’s cultural agenda, while current events (“Arab Spring” of 2011, wave of attacks in 2015, Algerian Hirak, etc.) renewed discussion topics. Some may have regretted a certain “Parisianism”or even a “Algerian tropism” pronounced, the audience is undeniable (7,500 visitors in 2020).

In 2018, the Institute for Research and Mediterranean Middle East Studies (Iremmo) joins the initiative to open it to Levantine horizons, hence the change in Maghreb-Orient books.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers “Like an empire within an empire”: Alice Zeniter at the risk of commitment

Paradoxically, the consolidation of the meeting has been accompanied by growing budgetary tensions, with state subsidies to the association Coup de soleil for the event falling by half between 2015 and 2021.

While Emannuel Macron’s memorial policy displays the ambition to intensify cultural exchanges between the two shores of the Mediterranean, a remobilization of donors spurred on by the Elysée Palace made it possible at the beginning of 2022 to loosen the constraint for the next three years. A helping hand to relieve the growing pains of a somewhat crazy associative dream come true.

This article was produced as part of a partnership with Maghreb des livres. Discover the program: