Why is Arabic Booker-winning Abdo Khal Boycotting Kuwait Book Fest?

Organizers of the Arabic Booker can put an extra feather in their caps today. Not only has the prize raised the profile of Arabic literature worldwide, but it has also given one writer a renewed feeling of social reponsibility.

Khal told the newspaper Al Hayat:

Winning the Arab Booker Prize has placed on my shoulders new responsibilities of supporting justice and righteousness, something I would not dare to do in the past. Now I can raise my voice. I ask all writers to boycott the show. (Translation by Arab News.)

«عندما يمتلك صبغة معينة، فعليه أن يستخدم هذه الصبغة من أجل الحق، وهذا ما منحني إياه حصولي على جائزة البوكر، والجائزة حمّلتني مسؤولية المنافحة عن الحق بشكل عام، ربما كنت أنافح في السابق صامتاً، لكن علي الآن أن ارفع صوتي».

This is after book-fair organizers prevented a number of Egyptians from participating. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Kuwait fair administration:

…decided to bar thirty five titles for distinguished Egyptian and Arab writers claiming the books were contrary to the fair and state policies, despite the fact that the barred books are not barred in any Arab country and they do not address the Kuwaiti government or society in any way.

The banned books include titles by Khairy Shalaby (whose Time Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets has just been released in English), Galal Amin, Gamal al-Ghitany, and Alaa al-Aswany.

Khal spoke out strongly against the bannings, and said other writers should follow his example.

Apparently, the same thing happened last year, as the Kuwait Times then reported that NGOs stage sit-in against censorship.

According to the Times:

The demonstrators issued a press release which were jointly signed by 24 NGOs that demanded the censorship laws applied on books and book exhibitions be revoked. The said NGOs argue that during the first three book exhibitions, no censorship was applied, “We did not witness any collapse in the social or moral structure of the society.”

More about censorship in Kuwait:

Hussain al-Qatari writes about the phenomenon, and asks (tongue in cheek) ‘Why don’t we censor terrible romance novels?’

Global Post reports on Kuwaiti film censorship.

And also from the Kuwait Times: Self-censorship the norm for media in Kuwait.