Asharq Al-Awsat, Riyadh- In a further illustration of tolerance and openness, Ali al Dumaini and Abdul Rahman al Lahim, recently released from prison after a royal pardon by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, attended the International Book Fair in Riyadh. The two had been jailed with twelve other activists, suspected of “provoking civil strife”, after advocating reform and calling for the separation of powers. The poet al Dumaini caught visitors’ attention with his amazing poems and al Lahim discussed cultural openness in Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed Zulfa, member of the Shura Council (consultative council) said their participation was “undoubtedly, a positive step that builds on the openness Saudi Arabia has witnessed under King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. It is also evident that the released individuals, in spite of the political charges against them, are now leading normal lives. Their opinions have not affected the national interest.”
“Allowing them to participate in forums affiliated to the International Book Fair is proof that the regime enjoys integrity and trusts the people. It also shows that the regime believes that the intellectuals’ opinions do not imperil national security.”
The two intellectuals were invited to attend the International Book Fair with a host of other prominent Saudi thinkers, irrespective of their political past. According to Dr. Mohammed al Qowaizani, al Dumaini and al Lahim based “on their status Saudi culture. They remain amongst the intellectual pioneers of the country.”
“Their participation comes in light of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s policies to allow society to go through a calculated and organized openness and not a leap into the unknown. The most prominent example of this openness is that we freely invited speakers to the Book Fair without pressure, especially regarding the political background of the participants.”
As it draws to a close, the Book Fair has opened new avenues for debate, after a series of dramatic incidents increased media coverage and discussion. These incidents have shed light on divergent and opposing views, the essence of the progress Saudi society is currently witnessing on all levels, culturally, socially and politically.