Book fairs across the Arab-speaking regions in the Middle East and North Africa have not only grown in popularity, but have also been places were publishers can sell books that are not allowed to be sold in stores. However, the Kuwait International Book Fair, once a free space for books, has been growing stricter in its censorship, reported The Guardian on 22 November 2016.
Lebanese publisher Hassan Yaghi told the newspaper that the fair in Kuwait is an “exception” to all the other fairs where publishers and readers are allowed “a wide expanse of freedom”.
As novelist Bothayna al-Essa explained in an interview with Arablit.org on 23 November 2016, several books were banned this year, including her own ‘Wandering Maps’ because it violated the “preservation of public morals” due to a scene that depicted child molestation.
However, al-Essa explained there were other books that were banned for more “absurd” reasons, including Saud Alsanousi’s ‘Mama Hissa’s Mice’ for allegedly “violating public order” because the work predicted a sectarian war between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in the near future, and Abdullah al-Busais’ ‘The Taste of the Wolf’ was banned because of its use of words such as “thighs” and “pee”.
Alsanousi told Arablit.org that there have been “no clear reasons” for the ban on his book and that he’s been trying to get a response for five months about the ban, but to no avail.
Al-Essa explained that the most important reasons used for banning books in Kuwait come down to the “maintenance of public order”, “protection of sanctities”, which include God and the Emir, and “preservation of public morals”.
Power of censorship in Kuwait
Alsanousi explained that “censorship is very comfortable for the authorities, who are protected from the accountability of parliament”. Allowing certain books into the market, or the establishment of art exhibitions or concerts for that matter, can land politicians into trouble; therefore, many officials would rather ban works to stay in power.
The writer recounted one particular event in 1998 where the entire Kuwaiti government was forced to resign to avoid accountability after the Minister of Information at the time allowed four controversial books to be circulated at the book fair.
Al-Essa added that the country’s 2006 Publications Law has given a “wide latitude” to the Ministry of Information when it comes to questioning books and makes the process to contest decisions difficult.
“To contest a banned book one has to go through a painful and almost eternal grievance process, which the Ministry of Information never takes seriously; not to mention judges or juries,” al-Essa said.
As an example, al-Essa said that in the last six months almost 500 books have been submitted to the Ministry of Information and that within the last three months only 11 eleven books were considered, with only one of them being approved.
Censorship at 2015 book fair
The banning of several books from the 2015 Kuwait book sparked a wave of condemnation from intellectuals and Arab publishers, the majority of whom had at least one title banned. Several titles were banned and others were referred to a “reading committee” to determine their fate, reported iNewsArabia on 19 November 2016.
The banned books were kept in a huge pile in the venue’s largest hall, which was inaccessible to fairgoers and where the books remained until the fair closed. Censors were also on alert throughout the venue, keeping an eye out for any forbidden titles.
Additionally, Kuwaiti publishers had to sign a form pledging not to sell any banned books or books that had not been given a stamp of approval by the Ministry of Information.
Photo: 2016 Kuwait International Book Fair poster
» Arablit.org – 23 November 2016
Leading Kuwaiti writers Saud Alsanousi and Bothayna al-Essa on pushing back against a season of censorship
» The Guardian – 22 November 2016
‘It’s like they were selling heroin to schoolkids’: censorship hits booksellers at Kuwait book fair
» bl3raby.com – 21 November 2016
Omar Anaz’s collection of poems banned at Kuwait International Book Fair
» iNewsArabia – 19 November 2016
Omani books banned at the Kuwait International Book Fair
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