Saudi Arabia bans more than 10,000 copies of 420 books at annual fair

Unprecedented move seen as part of effort to clamp down on any dissent in kingdom

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:15pm


Saudi authorities have banned hundreds of books, including works by renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, as part of a crackdown on publications deemed threatening to the conservative kingdom.

Saudi Arabia clamped down on dissent following the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, from which it has been largely spared, and has adopted an increasingly confrontational stance towards the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups it has long viewed as a threat to its security.

The local Okaz daily reported on Sunday that organisers at the Riyadh International Book Fair had confiscated "more than 10,000 copies of 420 books" during the exhibition.

Local news website reported that members of the kingdom's notorious religious police had protested at "blasphemous passages" in works by the late Darwish, widely considered one of the greatest Arab poets, pressing organisers to withdraw all his books from the fair, which ended on Friday.

The religious police frequently intervene to enforce the kingdom's strict conservative values, but this kind of move to ban so many works was unprecedented.

Similar action was taken against works by Iraq's most famous modern poet, Badr Shaker al-Sayyab, and another Iraqi poet, Abdul Wahab al-Bayati, as well as those by the Palestinian poet Muin Bseiso.

The fair's organising committee also banned a book entitled When will the Saudi Woman Drive a Car? by Abdullah al-Alami, the Saudi Gazette daily reported. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women, forced to cover in public from head to toe, are not allowed to drive.

Other banned books include The History of Hijab and Feminism in Islam.

Activist Aziza Yousef said the crackdown had offered "free advertising to those whose books were banned" as many "rushed to download these works from the internet".

Organisers also banned all books by Azmi Bishara, a former Arab Israeli MP who left the country in 2007 and is now close to authorities in Qatar, where he is based, reported.

The ban comes amid escalating tensions between Qatar and three other Gulf Arab monarchies - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - who pulled their envoys from Doha earlier this month, accusing it of interfering in their internal affairs. The decision to withdraw the ambassadors was seen as driven largely by Saudi animosity towards the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Mursi and its regional affiliates, which are widely believed to receive support from Qatar.

Organisers of the book fair had announced ahead of the event that any book deemed "against Islam" or "undermining security" in the kingdom would be confiscated.