Protests against Censorship at Kuwait Book Fair

Protests against Censorship at Kuwait Book Fair
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The Kuwait International Book Fair came to a close this week amidst widespread controversy due to the banning of what could be up to 200 books, writes Kate Goodin. A group of Kuwaiti intellectuals staged a sit-in outside the book fair, Saudi author and winner of the 2010 Arabic Booker, Abdo Khal, refused to attend, and commentators across the region weighed in on the issue of censorship.

In Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai, Madhat 'Allam summarizes protesters' complaints that censorship damages the standing of the book fair:

The strikers have expressed their extreme anxiousness regarding the future of culture and private and public freedoms in Kuwait, given the pervasiveness of arbitrary censorship for books imported to the country. They feel that the bannings, which are announced every year, have degraded the Book Fair from a pioneering cultural event to a marginal affair.

ذكر مدحت علام على موقع صحيفة "الراي" أن المعتصمين عبروا "عن قلقهم الشديد حيال مستقبل الثقافة والحريات الشخصية والعامة في الكويت في ظل تمادي الرقابة المتعسفة على الكتب الواردة إلى الكويت، والنهج المتكرر كل عام ما أدى إلى انحدار مستوى معرض الكتاب ليتحول من رائد في المجال الثقافي إلى معرض هامشي."

Because of the large number of prominent Egyptian novelists, critics and intellectuals whose works were banned, many Egyptian commentators saw the banning as an attack on Egyptian cultural production. The well-known Egyptian economic and social critic Galal Amin, quoted in the English version of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, insists that there is no justification for banning books, and that "Such custody over the minds of the people is unacceptable."

The Egyptian Writers Union condemned the ban saying that this ban "violates the rights of writers and intellectuals from a country .. which has long embraced Arab intellectuals and politicians and offered them shelter, care and respect."

كما أنه يتم فى حق كتاب ومفكرين ينتمون الى بلد ...لطالما احتضن المثقفين والسياسيين العرب وقدم لهم العون والرعاية والاحترا".

Supporting the ban, Khaled al-Qahas wrote in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan that the extent and importance of the books banned has been exaggerated, and that citizens should be protected from harmful ideas.

Any state qua state is responsible for things which go beyond the individual level. Accordingly, it must prohibit whatever is harmful and obscene to society. And this is the difference between public (or group) responsibility and private (or individual) responsibility. Granted, certain Arab governments may take advantage of this and go too far, but I personally have no problem with banning several innocent books if that's the only way to prevent the sale of one book which disparages God's sacred personage, speaks impudently of the prophets, insults any of the various religions, or promotes licentious ideas. But you want me to allow this for some no-name author selling nonsense, who wants pretend that he upholds free thought so that he can become famous? What kind of wretched, damnable freedom is this?

الدولة كدولة مطالبة بأمور تتجاوز الفرد، ولذا يجب عليها ان تمنع ما يسيء أو يشيع الفاحشة في المجتمع، هذا هو الفرق بين المسؤولية العامة (أو الجماعية) والمسؤولية الخاصة (أو الفردية)..نعم الحكومات العربية قد تستغل هذا وتبالغ فيه، ولكن لا اشكال عندي من ان تمنع عدة كتب، على ان يدخل كتاب واحد، ينتقص من الذات الالهية، أو يتجرأ على مقام النبوة، أو من يزدري من الأديان، أو يسوق فكراً اباحياً، كل هذا يأتي من كاتب مغمور، بضاعته مزجاة، يريد ان يشتهر بدعوى الحرية والفكر..ألا بئس لها من حرية، وتعساً له من فكر!

In an interview with the London-based paper Elaph, Kuwait's ambassador to Cairo, Rasheed al-Hamd, points out that the banning the books does not curb their influence:

In the age of the internet and satellite TV, you could easily access these banned books. Not only that, publicly banning these books from the fair only provides free press for them, which consequently increases their popularity.

قال سفير الكويت بالقاهرة، رشيد الحمد، في حوار مع موقع "إيلاف": "أنا لا أعلم بمحتوى هذه المؤلفات التي منعت ولماذا منعت ؟ وفي ظل عصر الإنترنت والفضائيات من الممكن أن تحصل على الكتاب الممنوع بل بالعكس عندما يعلن أن كتابا لأحد المؤلفين منع من العرض فهو بمثابة دعاية له ويسبب رواجا أكثر للكتاب.

Meanwhile Hasan Ali Karam rejected the ban in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan, in a forceful condemnation of censorship:

The real issue here is the continuing stricture of our freedoms, which has only been happening in the last two decades, and more specifically, since the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq's tyrannical grip. As for our country's economic development which has brought in billions of dinars for the state and which the state has used as a cudgel against our heads, it's completely useless because it has not been augmented by any cultural or intellectual development. For it is only through ideas and innovation that a country advances, and not these towering concrete monstrosities which stifle all our air and block out any natural light.

. إن الأهم من هذا هو مسألة تقلص مساحة الحريات في بلد لم يعتد على التضييق وتقليص الحريات إلا في العقدين الأخيرين وتحديداً بعد تحرير الكويت من العدوان العراقي الغاشم....إن التنمية التي صدَّعت الدولة بها رؤوسنا في المدة الأخيرة والتي رصدت لها المليارات من الدنانير نستطيع أن نقول لا قيمة ولا اعتبار لتلك التنمية اذا لم تسبقها التنمية الثقافية والإبداعية والفكرية. فبالفكر والإبداع تتقدم الأمم. وليست تتقدم بالأبراج الكونكريتية العالية التي تحجب عنا الهواء وتمنع عنا نور الشمس.

Thanks to Abdellah and John for their contributions and translations. The views in this post are taken from diverse sources and should not be taken as the views of Meedan. You can add your view in two languages on

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