Riyadh Book Fair 2010

On Wednesday the conservative news website Lojainiat came out with the news that gender segregation will be enforced at the book fair. They announced it with a big congratulatory red banner on their homepage. And yesterday I went to see for myself and found that women were allowed to enter and walk around freely.  After I got home, it turns out that the Ministry of Culture and Information issued a statement denying that women will be banned from attending the book fair. Obviously I’m happy about that.

Anyhow, my report about last year’s book fair got a fair number of readers, so I thought I would do the same this year.  This year it was more crowded than the last and there were more women in attendance. Security was also more available but not as careful as it should be.  There are four entrances and they had a metal detector and bag scanner at only one. What’s the point if there are three other doors that a person can go through without being examined? After Al Barack’s fatwa that those who don’t practice gender segregation should be killed, security is very important.

A vibe that I did get from this year’s book fair is the the organizers brazenly flaunting their newfound freedom by having all the microphone announcements made by a woman. I bet that really gets to a lot of muttawas, since many are of the opinion that a woman’s voice is just as sexual as her naked body. Speaking of muttawa; they were on a tight leash. Their exhibit was at least half the size of last year’s and I did not see a single one “advising” women on how to cover properly, even though I was there for about three hours. What I did see was a civilian muttawa bringing over a Hannah Montana book that was being sold at one of the stands to complain about it

The PVPV had promptly and proudly displayed two items that they had confiscated in their raids; a T-shirt and a roulette wheel.

While I was waiting in line at one of the computerized book catalogs, a muttawa woman came up to me to ask me to cover my face.  I (tried to) look her in the eye through her thick face cover and said that I am from the ultra conservative Qaseemi region and that I had tried her style of abaya and found that men still harassed me despite of my full cover . So now I’ve decided not to bother anymore.  She was shocked and actually stuttered in trying to find a reply to that.

This year the children’s book section was greatly expanded and also better organized. All the children book stalls were gathered in one place and at the end of that hall is the women-only children section. Ms. Jawhira Al Sibti did a fantastic job this year by expanding the section.  There was the usual children’s reading area with loads of books to choose from, a coloring area, a stage where plays are performed at regular intervals and a projector area where educational programs on child abuse and domestic violence are shown to the mothers.

Ms. Al Sibti is great. She allowed Saudi girls to volunteer. And not only college students that were recommended to her by a professor but also any girls who walked into the section and expressed interest in helping. The dress code for volunteers is a pair of pants and a Riyadh book fair T-shirt. I asked them how they got the education ministry to agree to that and they  replied with a smile, that they didn’t ask.

All kinds of books were for sale. One of the publisher’s standing at the Syrian stalls told me that the muttawa came by and objected to several books that included two on the history of the Vatican, one on the reconciliation of the differences  between Shias and Sunnis, and a bunch about Shiaism even though they were written by a Sunni. But the publishers defied the muttawa’s verbal instructions and kept them on display. He insisted that he would not take them out unless he gets a formal written letter of their ban.

There weren’t many English books but a few stalls had some and I was impressed by the quality and variety.

Just outside of the exhibition hall there are stalls for the Saudi Human Rights Organization, the Riyadh orphanage, the disabled association and others. There is a representative from each organization and free booklets.

Also there is a mini Islamic heritage and Saudi history exhibit with coins, old books and writing tools.

The food court wasn’t bad. I liked the sitting area more than the actual meal options available.

All in all, I would say this year is better than last year’s and definitely worth a visit. For dates and schedule  click here.


Filed under Annual Book Fair

19 responses to “Riyadh Book Fair 2010

  1. I really enjoyed your report and the many photo’s.
    I hope nothing bad will happen, a woman announcing, and girls volunteering and wearing pants and t-shirts!!!

    Gender segregation at a bookfair…. does that mean that women are not allowed to read books written by men and men are not allowed to read books written by women???

    I love your ”send me a book” widget. One of them is on your way!

  2. It is good to see that things are getting better year in, year out for the book fair. Hope things will continue this way to the end.

    Great report 🙂

  3. I was there as well, but on Thursday.. it was extremely crowded, and I recall hearing the woman’s voice on the loud speaker, and while I was whispering to my husband how sure I was that half the men there were probably pissed off (I have never seen so many religious men under one roof.. lol), I heard two talking to one another, and one commenting on how it was wrong to have the woman’s voice, and that a man should have been making the announcements.. lol

    It annoys me to death when I get woman come to me out of nowhere telling me to cover my face. I have even had motherS send their daughters to do the deed for them!!!

    Great coverage, but I wasn’t really happy with the English books section. My baby girl on the other hand walked out with bags of children books 🙂 I will probably be going back later this week, to have a proper look again.

  4. lol.. i just noticed the buy me a book widget… I didn’t take u for a Judy Blume fan 😉 Loved the idea!

  5. I read your report on the book fair with glee – I think this shows real progress! It’s rather exciting.
    A woman making the announcements? Why not!? The one thing I really don’t get, though, is the face covering deal. What business is it of that woman or anyone else – isn’t it YOUR personal choice? As far as I understand, veiling is not mandatory here, so why do others take it upon themselves to try to intimidate you into it? I wish I could understand…

    • Susie I’m glad you liked the report. And the woman did that because Saudis are taught that advising others is a big part of practicing Islam. Its why its so hard for many women to uncover their faces. Society pressures them into it. Their family would go:
      “what would the neighbors think of us if they see you leave the house with your face uncovered?” “What if your uncles or male cousins see you with your face uncovered in a public place?”
      They make it out as if it would be a huge scandal.

  6. Great to read about the book fair’s existence, quality, and relative freedom. Such activities are crucial to enhancing literacy, including a love of and a culture of reading. Thanks for the comprehensive and well written report/tour.

  7. Fannie

    I’m sorry to post this under your bookfair blog(which was fascinating) but I wanted to get the topic under a recent column–

    I’m from Texas and lived in the UAE for awhile. I just discovered your blog and love reading about the life of women in the Middle East. My fascination started in the UAE, which I know is far more liberal than your country, but I wondered constantly how you managed. I’d like to hear what you think about the column below. This is a western woman’s opinion which I’m not sure is accurate–what do you and your readers think?


  8. Well, it’s nice to hear that women weren’t banned from the book fair after all. When I initially read that it was going to be a men-only event this year, I was shocked. How could they make it a segregated event when it’s been a mixed one for several years now? Thankfully, things are moving forward in the KSA.

    As for your reply to that muttawa lady, I love it!! If only I had the guts to say that to their face too, but I always worry about the reaction. They need to learn to give up. The time when people could be intimidated to follow their strict instructions is coming to an end…

  9. Hey there,

    I haven’t been to the Book fair in two years I think since they moved to the new place.. Part of it, is to control the bookaholic in me until I’m done reading a good number of the books I have.

    Anyways, I think the fuss they’re making about the book fair is pointless. If we look at it from one aspect it’s pure knowledge place in my opinion where people exchange information and learn. The last thing we need someone to tell us what to sell in terms of books or who to talk to.. I mean people have many other ways to get information and communicated with the opposite gender. That closed way of thinking isn’t taking us anywhere.

    I remember I bought a book in the last Book fair I attended and the title was حكم الموسيقى والغناء في ميزان الاسلام it was like I was buying drugs, from under the table as we say and know one had to know about it! Give me a break! I think cause Al Judai3 said there’s nothing wrong with music and gender segregation and he mentioned examples from the prophet’s time peace be upon him.

    I’m going to attend a couple of lectures this week insha’allah, hopefully they’ll be good!

    Thanks Eman! 🙂

  10. Bruce

    Thank you for a well written and informative review. The answers to the comments are excellent also.

  11. Ukht

    Here is a link about Sheikh Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz bin Baz:


    Can u tell us more about how Saudis view him?

  12. i want percipate this book fair

  13. Awadh

    Am wondering what has become of other muslims. I expect enemies of islam to cajole islamic values, not muslims themselves. Be proud of your islam. Don’t get brain-washed by some western cultures. Ours (islam) is the best culture and is the total way of life wich provides happines here and in the here-after. May Allah guide us all to His straight path. Amin!

  14. Pingback: What Sold at the 2011 Riyadh International Book Fair, and Why? | Arabic Literature (in English)

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