RIYADH // Saudi authorities have banned hundreds of books, including works by the renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, as part of a crackdown on publications deemed threatening to the conservative kingdom.
Okaz newspaper reported on Sunday that organisers at the Riyadh International Book Fair had confiscated "more than 10,000 copies of 420 books" during the exhibition.
The Saudi news website Sabq.org reported that members of the kingdom's religious police had protested at "blasphemous passages" in works by the late Darwish, widely considered one of the greatest Arab poets, pressing organisers to withdraw all his books from the fair, which ended on Friday.
The religious police frequently intervene to enforce the kingdom’s strict conservative values, but the move to ban so many works was seen as unprecedented.
Similar action was taken against works by Iraq’s most famous modern poet, Badr Shaker Al Sayyab, and another Iraqi poet, Abdul Wahab Al Bayati, as well as those by Palestinian poet Muin Bseiso.
The fair’s organising committee also banned When will the Saudi Woman Drive a Car? by Abdullah Al Alami.
Other banned books include The History of Hijab and Feminism in Islam.
Aziza Yousef, a women’s rights activist, said the crackdown had offered “free advertising to those whose books were banned” as many “rushed to download these works from the internet.”
Organisers also banned all books by Azmi Bishara, a former Arab Israeli MP who fled Israel in 2007 and is now close to authorities in Qatar, where he is based, Sabq.org reported.
Organisers of the book fair, which began March 4, had announced ahead of the event that any book deemed “against Islam” or “undermining security” in the kingdom would be confiscated.
A few days after the fair opened, Saudi authorities closed the stall of the Arab Network for Research and Publishing headed by Islamist publisher Nawaf Al Qudaimi and confiscated all his publications, citing threats to the kingdom’s security.
* Agence France-Presse