Kuwait book fair opens amid censorship controversy

October 14, 2010

Controversy over the level of censorship applied on publishers marked the launch of Kuwait’s 35th international book fair.

Opening the fair, Ahmad Al Haroon, the commerce and industry minister, stressed the importance of freedom in Kuwait.

“In Kuwait, freedom of expression and other forms of freedom are guaranteed according to the law for everyone, be they Kuwaitis or non-Kuwaitis,” he said. “We really hope people make use of the technological development of publishing and acquiring information but at the same time we know that nothing can replace the written book. It will always hold a prominent position,” he said, quoted by Kuwait Times daily on Thursday.

Bader Al Rifae, the head of Kuwait National Council for Culture, Arts, and Literature (KNCCAL) said that the era of open spaces meant no bans on words, ideas, articles or books.

“Nonetheless, we need to realize that all of our lives are just a sum of collided forces and pressures,” he said. “We can say that people’s collisions lead to some sort of balance and this is the kind of balance that we are now witnessing. The amount of freedoms that the minister highlighted, and the limits set on them, are also the result for social clashes,” he said.

Ministry of Information officials said that there were only 25 banned books in this year’s fair.

However, publishers in the fair said they were disappointed in the level of censorship.

“From my list alone there were almost 15 books banned this year. I have more than 200 books that are banned only in Kuwait,” said one of the publishers who requested to remain anonymous, Kuwait Times reported.

The publisher said that books banned from previous years are automatically banned in addition to whatever new books are banned this year. “In Kuwait censorship is so severe that we do a self censorship before the Kuwait book fair,” the publisher said. “We only submit a list of books that we believe might pass censors here and every time something new is banned.”

Another publisher who wished not to print his name said that he has been participating in Kuwait book fairs for more than 10 years now and that this year censorship became worse.

“I would like to understand the criteria under which books are banned because sometimes it appears as if it is a random procedure,” he said. “In this book fair, a book of ours was banned, and I simply cannot see any reasonable justification for it to be banned at all! I just want to meet the person who banned it and ask him to tell me on what basis he made that decision. I bet he did not even read it.”

Other GCC book fairs are far more open than here, he said.

“In Saudi Arabia they make an exception during book fairs and no books are censored. It is the same in the United Arab Emirates. There, they ban books that even I, as a publisher, can understand. Here in Kuwait though it is just too much. ”

More than 500 government and private publishers from 23 countries are participating in the fair held until October 23.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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