Category Archives: Annual Book Fair

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

Riyadh Book Fair 2009

So I went to the Riyadh Book Fair this morning and overall I enjoyed it. The venue has been changed from the years before to the brand new Riyadh City Showrooms and they are a lot more spacious than the old showrooms. However what is on show is more limited than previous years. Maybe because it was so crowded the muttawas couldn’t keep up with what all the stalls were selling. A couple of years back I got these gorgeous Iranian posters from the Riyadh Book Fair.

poster 1

poster 2

 This sort of fare is not available now. I wouldn’t have put it beyond the muttawas to black out the illustrations in children’s books or at least cross out the necks of all drawings of people. But they haven’t gone that far. They did have one of the biggest stalls though and not a book in sight. What they did have on display is all the witchcraft that they have confiscated over the years and a huge flat screen TV with a video running showing how they reverse spells. My husband tells me they also have clothes that they confiscated from local shops that supposedly have unIslamic words written on them in foreign languages. He said that one of the T-shits had the word “sexy” emblazoned across the chest. And of course their stall was the most crowded. I wanted to investigate it more but getting any closer might mean that I would rub shoulders with them and that’s not a smart move with me already being on their bad side because my face was uncovered.

black magic

 muttawa crowd


I wasn’t impressed with the variety of books at the other stalls. The emphasis was largely on religion with stall after stall displaying books about how to be a good wife and how to choose a wife. The guest of honor this year is Brazil but their presence was not felt at all. Everywhere you turn, there’s either an official muttawa from the vice cops or police. I wanted to stand in the middle and shout at the top of my lungs IT’S A BOOK FAIR NOT WOODSTOCK!

Of all the stalls, I saw only one manned by a woman. She told me that she only comes when the book fair is open to women. She came on the first day and it was open to men only and she found it extremely awkward. So whenever it’s men only, she gets a guy to come in her place. She came all the way from France for this lame book fair. She also said that every now and then a muttawa would stop by her stall and “advise” her to cover her face. The newspapers reported that three men complained to the authorities and requested an official apology from the head of the vice police stating that they are respected authors over the age of fifty and they wanted to say hello to a fellow Saudi author, Halemah Mathfar, who happens to be a woman. She had a book signing and the writers were banned from speaking to her. When one of them broke the rules by waving his hand and calling out to Ms. Mathfar “thank you and goodbye”, the three were escorted to the vice cops office at the fair and given a lecture on proper Islamic conduct. The head sheikh of the vice cops at the book fair, Turki Al Shaleel, made this statement regarding the incident: “Our role at the book fair is regulatory to prevent the occurrence of sin, and we treat everyone with respect and try to resolve issues without escalation. There is an agreement between our organization and the Ministry of Culture and Information on signing books at the show. If the author is a woman people have to have their book signed through a third party so as to prevent her direct contact with the public. What happened is that a group of intellectuals objected to the signing, after controversy they reluctantly agreed to the mechanism. Then one of them provokingly raised his hand in front of everyone and called out to the author «Thank you .. good bye ». So he was asked to come to our office. The three intellectuals came voluntarily to the Office of the Hai’a and were not coerced and they left happy.”

 I took my kids over to the children’s area which is strictly women and children only. Kids can make their own bookmarks and then a young Saudi volunteer laminates them. There was a huge reading corner and many children books to choose from. I was hoping that one of the volunteers would read a story to the kids but they mostly sat in a corner gossiping and laminating. I was tempted to read one of the stories aloud to the kids but then changed my mind. Oh well I hope this muttawa deadlock on everything will ease up a little before next year’s book fair.


Filed under Annual Book Fair