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Saudi Arabia: Books banned, performance interrupted at book fair

6 June 2017

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information banned and confiscated books by Egyptian writer Youssef Zeidan from the Riyadh International Book Fair.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information banned and confiscated books by Egyptian writer Youssef Zeidan from the Riyadh International Book Fair, held from 8 to 18 March 2017, reported Cairo Portal on 12 March 2017.

The writer told Masr Alarabiya on 11 March 2017 that his books were available during the launch of the book fair and that they were confiscated afterwards, adding that he expected such an event as he had made statements about the islands of Tiran and Sanafir which are in contention between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.


Dance performance interrupted
Meanwhile, at the same fair, a member of the Committee of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice interrupted a Malaysian folk dance performance by a troupe of 12 students of the Sekolah Seni Malaysia Johor Art School on 9 March 2017, reported New Straits Times on March 10, 2017.

A YouTube video posted on 9 March 2017 of the incident shows the Saudi man interrupting the performance and shouting at the crowd: “This is a book fair and you are listening to music”. The spectators shouted back at him to leave the troupe alone.

Ministry of Culture and Information spokesperson Hani Al Ghufaili said that “action was taken promptly” and that the incident was being investigated, reported Saudi daily Okaz on 10 March 2017.


Country opening up to the arts
Enhancing cultural and entertainment opportunities throughout Saudi Arabia is an integral part of its ”Vision 2030” initiative, which has been championed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in order to push the economic diversification and social reform of the oil-dependent country.

Amr al-Madani, head of the kingdom’s General Authority for Entertainment, said in early January that concerts and cinemas would come to the kingdom in 2017, reported Reuters on 17 January 2017.

However, Abdel Aziz Bin Abdulla Al Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, is against this decision, saying that the country should “not open the doors to evil”, adding that “no good can come from music concerts” and that “cinemas allow men and women to mingle – a move that would violate public morality”, reported Saudi online news site Sabq on January 13, 2017.

On 9 March 2017, the city of Riyadh hosted a concert of popular Saudi artists Mohamed Abdou and Rashed El-Majed, which sold out within 30 minutes, reported Dunya News on 10 March, 2017.

There have been no other concerts in Riyadh. The concert in March launched the return of concerts to the city after a break of 28 years, reported Alarabiya on 9 March 2017.

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