Readers and Writers Battling Censorship in Kuwait Have a Hard Road Ahead

According to Kuwaiti Minister of Education and Higher Education Bader Al-Essa, rumors of “sex books” in Kuwaiti libraries are greatly exaggerated:

sout_al_kuwaitThe Kuwait-based Arab Times wrote earlier this week — in an article titled ‘Presence Of Sex Books In Public Libraries Rumors’ — that Al-Essa had said:

What is being published about the presence of sex books in public libraries…he called it news promoted by the social networking websites such as Twitter and others, but there is no evidence or an iota of truth in such news.

Al-Essa went on to say that anyone with “proof” should submit it to the concerned authority.

But he also promised to check up on any of these allegations, as “Essa said there are hundreds of news reports that need to be checked and confirmed and that the ministry wants to check and confirm their authenticity.”

From a relatively free 1960s and 1970s, Kuwait has become one of the most censorious Arab countries for literature, keeping wide swaths of books from their bookstores, libraries, and annual fall book fair. There are regular complaints against censorship at the Kuwait book fair as well as regular defenses.

This year, a coalition of rights groups protested ahead of the 39th annual fair, pressing the government to give up its wide powers to ban books.

One of the protest organizers, Ahmed Soud, told the Arab Times that “Censorship in Kuwait has no criteria, no standards. … We aim to change the process of banning. It should be restricted, so each book can only be banned by a court order.”

But with scaremongering rumors of “sex books” in public libraries, it seems the protesters still have a lot of work to do.

Kuwait’s Information Ministry said that only 25 books were on the 2014 blacklist for this year’s book fair, although protest participants said that there were more like 120 on a blacklist, which “included political works and novels from well-known Egyptian authors such as Alaa al-Aswany and Gamal al-Gitani.”

In the past, novels by Ibrahim Aslan, Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, Youssef El-Qaid, Mohammad Mansi Qandil, Ahdaf Soueif, Galal Amin, and Ibrahim Farghali have been banned, among many others.

Kuwaiti blogger Danderma, who attended the mid-November 2014 book fair, said that the fair’s censoriousness has been growing year by year. This year, she writes, “I didn’t linger in the fair long, I was dispirited and I was comparing our book fair with the one in Sharjah which had a vast collection of books that are banned in ours[.]”

Kuwaiti blogger Fajer Ahmed, writing about “Censorship of books in Kuwait,” also opened up an interesting discussion among Kuwaiti readers during the fair. A number of commenters praised Kindle, Amazon, and pirated books, saying these were the only ways to get uncensored literature.

However, this is problematic for a number of reasons, as the commenter Muscati observed:

It’s unfortunate that censorship of books mostly impacts Arabic readers and hurts Arab authors. If an English book is banned (which is less likely to happen than Arabic books), it’s easy to legally obtain a copy of the book electronically through Kindle, iBooks, or many other legal e-book services. However, when an Arabic book is banned, the most common way for readers to access the book is through pirated PDF copies. Thus the author loses income and control on his intellectual property.

Muscati further wrote:

… . I visited the Kuwait International Book Fair for the first time last year and sampled the type of books which had the biggest sales crowds. I found some books by local and regional authors which were shockingly sexually explicit but were approved and being sold in the fair. Their authors were there proudly singing copies too. Meanwhile, incredibly useful books such as Mohammed Al Yousifi’s three-part history of Kuwait were banned. After the fair I ordered Al Yousefi’s book online from and it arrived in Kuwait without being held for censorship!

Surfacin9 also said he/she had been able to order books online without any trouble:

As for books, I’ve been able to order all sorts of books from Amazon.. Even got Rushdie’s Satanic Verses intact and unharmed.. So can’t complain about that.

Free Kuwait said that he/she had visited the censorship department:

I have very recently visited the press censorship department in the Ministry of Information because to ask about the fate of my book which was submitted to them about 2 weeks ago. It is a small department with about 6 or 7 employees who are responsible for reading the books and determining if they are to be approved or should be submitted to the second committee.

The place was a mess! Piles of books here and there, some in boxes, some on the offices floors. When I asked the manager there about how they manage to process all these books she said that it is a very hard work and sometimes they have to take some books home with them in order to finish reading them. She also said that the work load exponentially multiplies before the book fair.

That’s not the big deal. I havent met all the employees in the department and I don’t know about their qualifications. But some of them are really young! I don’t want to be judgmental but how would a freshly graduated 20 something girl decide if a book written by, let’s say, some professor with 20 years or so experience is valid for publishing or not! It was shocking to me to put faces on the people who control what I can and can not say in this country!

Also: A report on censorship in Kuwait from Sout al Kuwait