Riyadh Book Fair Opens: More Access for Women, Protests Against Detentions

Mostly enthusiastic stories and tweets marked the opening day of the Riyadh International Book Fair:

PVPV at the fair.
PVPV at the fair.

The fair opened at 10 a.m. yesterday, with the country’s Committee for the Prevention of Vice & Promotion of Virtue (PVPV) police apparently sidelined, although still with a large presence at the fair.

Sheikh Abdel Latif Al-Sheikh, head of the country’s PVPV, announced last week that both men and women would be allowed to attend the fair. Al-Sheikh also said, as reported by various sources, that the PVPV would not confiscate any books on display at the fair, although they certainly would report suspect titles to the Ministry of Culture.

Al-Sheikh said: “Shopping is open to all men and women as long as they do not commit improper acts that are against Shariah.”

Princess Adela Bint Abdullah was honored on the fair’s first day, and she spoke out for Saudi women thinkers and writers, according to the Saudi GazetteSeveral other women were honored, including author Khairiya al-Saqqaf.

From @rabahny4now
From @rahbany4now

The fair launched with nearly 1,000 stalls, according to the Arab Newswith a range of “books and online material.” Indeed, the giant fair — perhaps now the largest in the region, having overtaken Cairo’s fair — promises to have over 250,000 paper titles and more than one million e-books.

The Riyadh fair’s slogan this year is “Dialogue: a culture and practice,” somewhat similar to Cairo’s “Dialogue, not clash.”

On Twitter, a number of fair-goers shared photos and excitement on  #معرض_الكتاب and elsewhere, while @e3teqal and @e3teqal_eng rallied people to a 5 p.m. peaceful gathering outside the fair to protest illegal detentions, particularly those of women and children. Among the detentions is that of Mohammad al-Bjadi, who is accused in part of possession of banned books — books he apparently acquired at the annual Riyadh fair. 

Organizers said they expect more than 2 million visitors.

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