Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Censoring the Cairo Book Fair

The annual Cairo Book Fair is the largest literary festival in the Arab world. Sadly, one of the traditional features of this event is the willingness of Egyptian authorities to ban certain works from being offered. While secular books are frequently banned from the festival, Islamist texts and a charming little volume called Mein Kampf are prominently displayed.

It appears that this year's Cairo Book Fair will be no exception, as Agence France Presse reports:

Egypt has banned a number of Western and secular books from the 40th Cairo International Book Fair, including works by Czech author Milan Kundera and Morocco's Mohamed Choukri, publishers said on Monday.


"The Egyptian authorities have given no explanation, we were neither informed nor consulted about this measure and the books have not been returned to us," said Rana Idriss, director of Lebanese publishing house Dar al-Adab.

She said that four works by Kundera, including "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," were barred from the fair.

Germany's Al-Jamal publishers said the authorities had seized copies of Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri's autobiographical "For Bread Alone" which contains references to teenage sex and drug use and is banned in several Arab countries.

The taboo-busting "Love in Saudi Arabia" by young novelist Ibrahim Badi has also been banned, along with "Women of Sand and Myrrh" by Lebanon's Hanan al-Sheikh.

The story deals with the position of women in the Gulf and mentions homosexuality.

Elias Khoury, a renowned Lebanese writer who describes himself as atheist, secular and left-wing, had his "As If She Were Sleeping" seized.

It is a telling commentary on the dismal state of intellectual freedom in the Middle East that the region's major book fair is subject to official censorship.


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