My dear brother, the chairman of the Arab Cultural Club,

Dear publishers,

Dear intellectuals,

Our esteemed audience

This is the 44th exhibition that you, the Arab Cultural Club, Lebanon and
our Arab brethren are presenting. And this is a badge of honor for the
club, for the publishers and all those working in the industry of books and
their production.

The Arab Cultural Club, through its dedication to domestic and national
causes over more than half a century; through its cultural and social activities; and through its book exhibition has become a pillar of our domestic and national heritage. Along with other institutions, it has turned into a banner for Beirut to help promote its leading role in culture, education and the spread of freedoms.

Much has been said in recent years about the radical changes that have
pushed the world, and have almost pushed us, the Arabs, into the post-written-word era. We all know the difficulties facing the
publishing sector, which are no different from those facing other economic sectors. But I firmly believe that the culture of books and the printed word, to which our countries have generously contributed in ancient history and more contemporary times, will remain a symbol of the humanity of mankind, the potential for its excellence and the ability to express our emotions, ambitions and aspirations in a creative manner. This literary culture spotlights the will, freedom and ability to choose and to develop.

This does not mean that there is no competition from other audio-visual
media sources of education and knowledge, where modern communication channels offer quick and pre-prepared information. However, new and inherited knowledge is in dire need of books as a source for in-depth information in all its forms - its history, its evolution, its mark on life and its rapidly changing stages.

It is a skill to turn the book into an attractive commodity that can
compete with other outlets of information, through professional
production, at modest costs and appropriate promotion. Sadly, a contributing factor to the crisis of books in the market is the lack of funds for investment in this sector. Another factor which is worrying for book publishing is the need to be competitive if our print culture in the present era is to meet the needs of our young generations with regard to curricula needs for knowledge, as well as dealing with changes in the world on all levels.

We must not forget that knowledge, both new and old, is transmitted today in the main international languages, in new methods and through modern tools.

It is incumbent on educators and intellectuals, who are involved in the
public academic and cultural sector in all areas of specialization, to acquire the necessary expertise for the new era.  They need to acquaint themselves with new texts and methods and to accompany their constant development amid the controversies and alternatives that surround them. Such a course of action will complement efforts to modernize the Arabic language, and allow it to accompany the course developments and other changes. To me, the focus on other international languages will neither weaken nor hurt our language. What would hurt our language is the inability to absorb modern information, its terminology, technology and horizons.

This means we are facing two, rather than one, problem: The problem of the creator and the producer, and the problem of producing and marketing the book. On the one hand, I am not a subscriber to the theory that the crisis of books and culture in Lebanon and other Arab countries is a structural issue that cannot be remedied or overcome. Today, we possess one, modern Arab culture that is undergoing severe labor pains because of comprehensive and rapid changes. We are not alone in this battle to catch up with the modern abundance of information. Just as previous generations of Arab intellectuals excelled in developing promising cultural environments, contemporary Arab intellectuals and their students also will, through serious work, persistent efforts and a sense of responsibility, succeed in creating a new awareness about ourselves and the world. We need this for ourselves and for our young generations.

A delegation of Lebanese and Arab publishers visited me at the prime
minister's office in 1998, with a request related to the import of raw materials, postal services and export difficulties. I realized that some
the demands were worthy of my attention. This is why we incorporated in the policy statement, which we presented to Parliament yesterday, a special mention of the care to be afforded by the Ministry of Culture to large cultural projects that would encourage the book publishing industry, its marketing and its export.

  Beirut, thanks to the excellence of its intellectuals and the Arab intellectuals who based themselves here - and thanks to its publishers - was the main center of the Arabic language book publishing industry. It was the haven of the Arab press. Today, the government wishes to work with these two sectors, as with all the other industrial sectors, to recover its advanced role in finding remedies to problems and in employing all available means to provide incentives and protection.

We undoubtedly have in our possession the means to overcome crises caused by recession, bureaucracy and insufficiency in the needs of modernization. We are equipped with long-time expertise, familiarity with markets and the developments in the world of industry and crafts. We have a free economic system that facilitates activity and initiative. In our country, there are many highly and broadly cultured individuals, who have in the past played prominent roles within our Arab arena. They can once more play effective and leading roles. Last but not least, we also have a democratic system, encouraging freedom of expression and freedom of the word. These are political and cultural freedoms which encourage thinking, work and production in an atmosphere of freedom, creativity and excellence.

You publishers overcame many difficulties during the internal strife, and
until the early 1990s suffered your share of sacrifice. With appropriate investment in the most promising sectors, you will overcome the recession and return to the forefront of Arab markets. But in addition to inspired investment, this requires a measure of professionalism and diversity; it requires responsible and uninterrupted production activity with authors and intellectuals on the one hand, and with the modern tools on the other.

We are striving, through systematic coordination between the government and the productive and services sectors as well as the civil society, to recover Lebanon's role as the printing press of the Arab world and the center of thought and publishing. We would like Lebanon to be the forum and environment for the media, the destination for tourists, the hospital for the weak and the haven for all those wishing to benefit and converge under a horizon open to the world.

My noble brothers,

The Arab Cultural Club is a symbol of Lebanon's prosperous civil society
institutions. Its activities and continuity provide the most obvious proof of the significant services the cultural institutions can provide to the homeland on all levels. The Book Fair has been one of these activities, which must continue so that Beirut can maintain its special status and so Lebanon can remain a beacon of Arab enlightenment and knowledge. The club and similar institutions played an important role in maintaining cultural, political and economic links during the years of strife. We will continue to work together, as a government, a society and institutions, for constructive and sophisticated culture, for quality of life and for a prosperous future for our children, for society and the nation at large.

Thanks to the publishers and to the Arab Cultural Center, the Book Fair has become an attraction for the Lebanese and for the Arabs. It also can have a more important symbolic and practical impact on the development of qualitative cultural activities by identifying the means for encouraging a greater number of books and authors, and accommodating modern technology as a tool of mass communication.

Long live Beirut, a beacon for Arab and international cultures,

Long live the Arab Cultural Club, the vibrant environment of Arab culture,

God bless you all, and long live Lebanon.