Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- – A mysterious source was feared to have bought every copy of a best-selling novel that caused sensation and scandal in Saudi Arabia.
Banat al Riyadh, or the Girls of Riyadh, written by Rajaa al Sanea, about the lives of four well-to-do women in the Saudi capital, was on exhibit with other Dar al Saqi publications at the Riyadh International Book Fair. However, a representative for the publishing house denied the book had sold-out.
Omar al Bahli, a visitor, indicated that if the rumor were indeed true, it would signal outside interference into the tastes and choices of the Saudi public. “Rajaa’s novel and other books by Saudi authors should be available to us, as they speak about us”, he said.
“I fail to understand what is happening in the Book Fair. It is meant to be international and the media have said it differs from its predecessors. However, when I came here, I didn’t find any of the five books I was interested in. This is dismissive. I paid more than 1000 Saudi Riyals [or $267 US] to come here and didn’t find what I was after. It would have been better to travel to Dubai or Bahrain”, a disgruntled visitor Said al Zahrani said.
But not everyone shared his view point. Gharmallah al Ghamdi was pleased to hear books that contravened customs, traditions and religion would be banned from the Book Fair. “Youth must be protected from the poisonous ideas they contain. Art and culture should not be used as a pretext for moral decay.”
Dr. Suleiman al Aqla, head of the Book Fair, said, “We are responsible for organizing the fair. As for the censorship of publications, or whether a certain book was withdrawn or sold out, these matters are not within our duties. The Ministry of Culture and Inofrmation is the one concerned with such issues.”
Asked about his responsibility in the banning of Banat al Riyadh, Dr. al Aqla replied, “I am not authorized to ban publications. I am responsible for organizing the Book Fair and monitoring prices. Representatives from the Ministry of Culture determine which books are appropriate for Saudi Arabia and coordinate with us in this regard.”
He denied the Ministry of Culture was aware of all the titles that were brought to the exhibition, as they numbered thousands, but indicated it had seen the books on the shelves.
The Riyadh Book Fair which continues until March 23 has seen a high number of visitors in its first week, al Aqla indicated. “On Sunday, hundreds of students from Riyadh attended the fair. It gives us great pleasure to see so many young Saudis visiting.
Banat al Riyadh caused controversy in Saudi Arabia and was banned by the authorities. Published in Beirut , its first and second editions flew off the shelves as people have flocked to read about the private lives of women in the Kingdom.
Other books banned from the Book Fair were “The Dolphin’s trip” and “the 20 th terrorist” while the new testament and “A dialogue with atheists” were on display for the first time.