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The successful experience of ‘Dar Dawen Publisher’ can be traced from its inception, where ambition was the key driver to its establishment. The protagonist of the story is Ahmad Muhanna, who headed the literary club at the Faculty of Commerce at Halwan University in Egypt.
Muhanna had a passion for reading and writing, as well as publishing ‘small’ press materials that met the needs of students. In late 2005, he and some of his colleagues started creating blogs on the Internet as part of a youth movement that engaged with the political and cultural sphere on the Egyptian landscape.
“Bloggers may have eminent and distinguished points of view, but they are not professional writers,” says Muhanna, as he remembers the experience. “It resembled popular press and gave birth to the core idea behind our project.”
As Muhanna puts it, the idea was to collect the bloggers’ texts from the Internet and publish them in printed paper books, which is generally the reverse of what happens. Normally, writers first publish their printed books and then later place the content on the Internet.
“We wanted a broader space than blogs provide to reach a larger segment of readers, especially in areas that did not have access to the Internet,” explains Muhanna, who with his partner Ahmad Al Bouhi chose ‘pocket books’ to publish a series of publications dedicated to the blogs’ texts.
Muhanna emphasises that their project “respects the book and avoids common mistakes in the publishing sector” and that he and his partner are inspired by the successful experiences from their visit to book fairs and markets, as well as from their participation in specialised training courses in USA and Europe. As a result, he says, the highest levels of international publishing standards were implemented. This was clearly manifested by the text-selection mechanism and the vitalising role of the literary editor, which goes beyond checking and proofreading spelling, to modifying or adding to the original text in coordination and consultation with the author.
Muhanna highlighted that since the relationship between the publisher and the author is primarily commercial, it was essential to follow the standards that promote the ‘product’ in the optimal way and that this is what urged Dar Dawen Publishers to knock on the doors of e-publishing, e-marketing, IT and modern technology. The growing interest in Dar Dawen on social media websites is underscored by the fact that its Facebook page has more than 1.4 million followers, which probably makes it the most followed page among social media pages of cultural institutions in the Arab world.
Muhanna revealed that the first edition normally features 1,000 copies, with some reaching 5,000 copies, especially when there is a high demand on the book before it is published or when the writer is a renowned author.
Established in 2009 after Mustafa Al Husaini joined, Dar Dawen covers all of the printing costs and elaborates a yearly plan that aligns with distribution and market demand. Muhanna remembers the whirlwind caused by Dar Dawen’s first publication that was written by Dr. Nabeel Farouq and featured critiques of Husni Mubarak, former President of Egypt. Other publications comprised a poetry collection by Khalid Al Sawi, books by young bloggers and writers, as well as titles written by established authors, such as Bahaa Taher and Bilal Fadhil.
Muhanna recognises that publishing in this part of the world can be a risky occupation and at one time he was interviewed by the security services after publishing ‘El Baradei and the Dream of a Green Revolution,’ just before the Egyptian revolution of January 2011.
Discussing what Muhanna and his partners aim to achieve from Dar Dawen, the publisher says confidently: “We would like to offer readers fun – even though the titles they are reading are purely intellectual – while drawing the maximum benefit for them.”
Muhanna does not conceal that the key challenge facing the publishing industry in the Arab world in general – and particularly in Egypt – is that of forging books. He comments that it is a challenge that requires concerted efforts from the intervention of the General Egyptian Book Organization and the Egyptian Publishers Association, in addition to the strengthening of the role of the executive authority. He says that the publisher can only raise awareness about the dangers of this phenomenon among readers and that the exacerbation of forgery and the production of counterfeit books can force publishing houses to close, which means that employees and cooperatives can lose their jobs and authors their financial rights.
On his impressions of Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), where the interview took place, Ahmed Muhanna says: “The fair’s profile and high level of professionalism makes it; the Frankfurt (book fair) of Arabia.” Muhanna, who was hosted as a guest to the Cultural Programme of SIBF’s 36th edition, commended the efforts of the fair’s management that are inspired by the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to enhance knowledge, promote culture, foster reading as noble habit and support the Arab book industry.