Popular Yemeni writer sells personal library to survive

Mohammed Al Qaoud offers 8,000-book collection for sale after two years without income in rebel-held capital

A general view of the Old City of Sanaa, Yemen March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
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One of Yemen's most popular writers is selling his collection of more than 8,000 books to raise money for rent and food for his family, reflecting the plight of citizens in Sanaa more than three years after Houthi rebels seized the capital.

Mohammed Al Qaoud, 40, told The National he had built up his library over three decades but was being forced to part with it because he had not been paid in two years as a result of the civil war that broke out in March 2015.

The author of 13 books of plays, poetry and short stories, Al Qaoud works as writer and editor at Al Thawra Corporation, Yemen's largest state-owned printing and publishing house.

However the government, now based in Aden, is unable to pay employees in Sanaa and other areas held by the Iran-backed rebels. Large areas of the south have been liberated with the help of Saudi-led coalition that includes the UAE, but fighting continues in northern provinces and along the Red Sea coast.

Increasingly desperate, Al Qaoud offered his collection for sale in a Facebook post on Saturday.

"No longer is the suffering bearable and neither are the dire circumstances we experience in our beloved country. Our children are enduring the dangers of facing extreme harsh conditions and I found the answer to improving their lives would be through book selling," the father of four wrote.

"Therefore, I, Mohammed Al Qaoud, a bookworm, have decided to sell my rich collection of books, which comprises more than 8,000 knowledge and culture books, 20 per cent of which I keep in my residence and the rest in a private library outside.

"The money I plan to raise from selling my books would pay off my debts in addition to the house rent after I have been warned to vacate in a few days if I don’t pay my outstanding one-year balance.

"I offer my sincere apologies to my family for posting this urgent plea. Never before have I ever imagined I would take such a painful action."


Read more: Yemen's UN envoy meets with Houthi delegation in Muscat


Al Qaoud said many others in the capital were in the same situation.

"It is not just me — thousands of people in Sanaa are starving but they don't dare to raise their voice and say, 'enough, stop the war, we want to survive'.

"We are dying behind a wall of silence, nobody knows anything about our sufferings, all that is going on around us is fierce war in which there is no place for us who fight with their pens," said Al Qaoud, who heads the Sanaa chapter of the Yemeni Writers Union.

"Death is our fate in Sanaa, we don't have any other choice, we can't flee out because the Houthis will not let us to go, especially those who are known like us, writers and artists."

Al Qaoud asked potential buyers for his books to call or email him, but some people got in touch to urge him not sell, he said, while others, mostly expatriates, offered to help him financially so that he would not have to.