Creative Tracks Series - Beyond the platform : Mohamed El-Baaly

He is a publisher and he founded Sefsafa Culture & Publishing in Egypt. He received a RCF/Creative Tracks mobility grant to travel from Cairo to Frankfurt to take part in International Book Fair.
What is your professional background ?
I am a publisher based in Cairo and I define myself as a cultural entrepreneur because in 2009, I founded - with partners - Sefsafa Culture & Publishing. This company has now published more than 150 titles and proved to be one of the most active small publishing houses in Egypt.
Besides, this publishing activities, I am a festival director. I launched my first festival under the brand “Egypt Comix Week” in Cairo in 2014. A year later I organised the first edition of Cairo Literature Festival, which toured to Alexandria and other cities in Egypt.
How and why did you start your cultural venture ?
After the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt, we needed to develop our political scene but also our cultural space. Cultural influence on an international level was then and still is very important.
At that time I searched for the best legal status to develop my activities and I came up with the following idea : create two separate companies for the different activities. I had support from local and international partners.
What local context motivated you to start your venture In Egypt ?
In Egypt we are facing two types of pressure: first of all the economic pressure because of inflation and second, political pressure because of censorship and the absence of democracy. In this context publishing books is challenging. It is becoming more and more difficult, sometimes even more difficult than before 2011.
But there are many new and talented emerging authors. The problem is that the established publishing houses encourage them to write mainstream books, like detective novel or mystery novel. Publishing serious books is a risk.
What impacts do you anticipate at a local level?
I intend to encourage the freedom of speech, freedom of thought, which is not easy in Egypt. Books enable exchange between the author and the reader. This dialogue is essential. Sefsafa aims to support this cultural exchange through the festivals and meetings but also through translations from Turkish to Arabic for example. I hope that one day the Egyptian society will be influenced with new ideas in order to re-establish our democracy.
What is your strategic approach to inserting your venture in the local (and international) cultural market?
The development of my venture depends first of all on the local economy and the current inflation in Egypt. Our biggest market is printed books sold in Egyptian bookstores. We are trying to propose digital versions.
But the digital realm is a real challenge for the development of Sefsafa on an international level. More and more Arabic readers are living aboard and since 2011 people are more and more interested in Arab culture. These populations are a target audience. The best way to make Egyptian literature available on the market is to use technology and digital tools like e-books, kindle, online platforms. We also work with the Amazon channels.
What are the next steps for the development of your project ? How do you include international exchanges ?
First of all there is a need to stabilise the venture because of this bad economy in Egypt. It is difficult to predict our progress, but our strategy is to be more and more present on the digital realm. Then we want to reach Arabic readers living aboard. To accomplish this objective, we need to travel in different international events, like the Salon du Livre in Paris, or in Frankfurt. My travel to Frankfurt was supported by the RCF and it was a good opportunity to meet European professionals, authors, and readers. These kinds of travel are necessary to sell our books and to strengthen our presence on the international scene.


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