Book Fair Updates: Riyadh Disrupted by Ultraconservatives, Report from Casablanca

One of the "protestors" arguing with Khoja.

When Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja opened up this year’s Riyadh Book Fair on Tuesday, he said, according to Gulf News:

In the community of books and knowledge there is no place for fear. Those who fear books and other intellectual activity do not know what books are.

Deputy Minister of Culture Abdullah al-Jasser also said that no one outside of the culture ministry was allowed to pull books from the fair, including the powerful Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (PVPV). The ministry said they would take it upon themselves to ban books that attacked religion or “glorified” magic or sex.

Apparently, these measures were not enough for a group “dozens of young men,” according to AFP, or “more than 500,” according to Al-Arabiya, who descended on the fair late Wednesday night, denouncing books and harassing women. They were alleged to have been members of the PVPV, although the commission denies it.

Al-Arabiya reported that one of the men told Khoja: “We appreciate your efforts, but the presence of women and the display of books that contain secular and destructive ideas are against Islam. These books contain carnal poetry and apostate concepts.”

According to the AFP, Khoja posted on his Facebook page Thursday a criticism of “the harassment of visitors and publishers,” and said that the fair is “a cultural showcase for our country.”

Video of the men being kicked out of the fair:

Comments on Twitter:

murtadha: just as always before, Riyadh book fair causes controversies among Saudi. For god sake, I wanna buy my books and go.

MFQahtani: A group of extremists raided the Riyadh book fair tonight. Threatening, harrasing people, spoiling the atmosphere, and interrupt TV report

AzizTarabzoni: What’s happening in the Riyadh book fair is so depressing. #Saudi

Y7ya: But guess what ? there are volunteers fighting reading! this is what the news from Riyadh book fair said #Riyadhbook

jsaffar: it’s like #Saudi s have nothing to worry about except #Riyadh Book fair incident which is deja vu of the previous years , wake up people

At the Book Fair in Casablanca

From reader Melanie Clouser

Photo courtesy of Melanie.

FRIDAY, FEB. 11—I went to the book fair in Casa today, and was impressed at the international representation: all Arab countries, including Palestine and Mauritania, European countries (Italy was the guest of honor, and sold books in Italian, as well as food and coffee at lunch time), Russia, Azerbaijan, Japan, South America, and others. It’s surprising that there is no representation of North America (to my knowledge). It was held in the expo center (al-ma‘riḍ) next to the Hassan II mosque complex. One feature that distinguishes the Casablanca book fair from my memory of the Cairo book fair in 2004 is the priority placed on children’s books and activities. Many of those who came to the book fair were children, and there were activities for them as well as lectures for adults.

Across the street in the Hassan II mosque complex, I visited the Fondation Hassan II / al-maktaba al-wasā’iṭiyya (popularly known as la médiathèque). The complex also includes the 2nd tallest mosque in the world (after Madina) and a Quranic school. The library is very spacious and brand new. In addition to the ground floor (which has seating, current periodicals, and a checkout counter), there are three floors. The first floor is for children, and includes rooms of books and comfortable furniture and mats on the floor. The second floor is for young adults, and includes lots of graphic novels and comics (with a whole wall dedicated to manga!), as well as a computer lab, tables and seating areas, and a room for hands-on activities or classes. The third floor is for adults, and includes books and seating areas. On the other side of the staircase, there is an auditorium (that seats 200 in posh chairs, with windows overlooking the mosque and ocean), a music and film library (not for use outside of library), and Hassan II’s personal library open for anyone to browse.

There are currently about 450 library patrons, and the library hopes that number will pass 1,000 in the next year. The library just opened its doors in September 2010. Annual fees are 250 dh for individual members, and 500 dh per family or school class.

Alexandra Büchler, director of Literature without Frontiers, adds:

The Casablanca Book Fair is impressive indeed, smaller than Cairo but far better organised with more meaningful international presence. What the above report does not mention is that this year the book fair was boycotted by Moroccan writers in  protest against the policies of the Ministry of Culture, the organiser of the fair, and of the Minister, novelist Bensalem Himmich. This meant that the majority of the programme was either cancelled or transferered to other venues.

Note that this is Himmich of the award-winning The Polymath and The Theocrat, who has been shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his My Tormentor.

mlynxqualey

5 thoughts on “Book Fair Updates: Riyadh Disrupted by Ultraconservatives, Report from Casablanca

  1. The Casablanca Book Fair is impressive indeed, smaller than Cairo but far better organised with more meaningful international presence. What the above report does not mention is that this year the book fair was boycotted by Moroccan writers in protest against the policies of the Ministry of Culture, the organiser of the fair, and of the Minister, novelist Bensalem Himmich. This meant that the majority of the programme was either cancelled or transferered to other venues.

    1. Thanks for that, Alexandra. I guess my attention was in too many places this February.

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