Censorship Rife at Riyadh Book Fair

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People look at books at the fifth Riyadh International Book Fair 2 March 2010. (Photo: REUTERS - Fahad Shadeed)

By: Mariam Abdallah

Published Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The International Book Fair in Riyadh, which kicked off Tuesday, appears to be surrounded by a wall of censorship from both the state and the Salafis, who waged a campaign to ban it.

The absence of Syrian publishing houses was conspicuous this year after the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information banned them from the book fair in a typically political move.

The Iraqi publishing house Dar al-Jamal was also banned for the second year in a row. In addition, the space preserved for known publishing companies was reduced.

Religious warnings were issued that called for people not to attend the book fair and buy “destructive” books.

These edicts came out weeks before the Riyadh Book Fair opened, as rumors mounted that the Ministry of Culture and Information had banned 40 Islamic publishing houses from participating, which the ministry later denied.

About 600 Arab and foreign publishing houses are participating in the exhibition and Sweden is the guest of honor.

This annual book fair is considered the most important cultural event in the kingdom. It includes books that local bookstores do not normally carry.

In addition, it is an opportunity for Saudi and Arab intellectuals to come together at seminars held on the sidelines of the fair.

The issue that might prove most problematic for organizers this year is that by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information to allow men and women to attend the book fair at the same time, which is a departure from the norm.

That means hardliners will likely intensify their attacks on the event.

In any case, smear campaigns against the Riyadh Book Fair, calls for its boycott under the pretext of gender mixing, and accusing its Saudi and Arab writers of apostasy have been underway for years.

In the 2011 book fair, inspectors attacked publishers for allegedly selling books of immorality and debauchery.

They also attacked female journalists who were there to cover the event, accusing them of self-adornment and unveiling.

The book fair this year coincides with new calls for a boycott by hardliners in Saudi Arabia to preserve “Islamic values.”

These calls went viral on Facebook and Twitter accompanied by pictures of two writers, Yahia al-Amir and Hamza Kashgary, who are accused of “insulting religion and the Prophet.”

The Undersecretary for Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Culture and Information Nasser Al-Hejailan promised that censorship will be exercised effectively this year against participating publishers.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported that the fair kicked off Wednesday.

Comments

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