Hardliners ejected from Saudi book fair following shock outburst

 At the Riyad Book Fair, the Saudi Culture Minister was taken to task by hardliners who denounced the ‘heretical’ books featured. According to our Observer, this incident highlights the growing anti-government sentiment in the country.



Screenshot from the video of the expulsion of angry citizens from the Riyad Book Fair Wednesday 2nd March 2011.


At the Riyad Book Fair, the Saudi Culture Minister was angrily confronted by a group of angry citizens who denounced certain books at the exhibit as ‘heretical’. Such public shows of defiance against a government figure are extremely rare in Saudi Arabia. According to our Observer, the incident highlights growing anti-government sentiment in the country amid ongoing protests by minority Shiites in the east of the country.


Abdul Aziz Khoja, the Saudi Culture and Information Minister, inaugurated the Riyad Book Fair on behalf of King Abdullah on Wednesday, March 2. The exhibition, which this year is dedicated to Senegal, showcases more than 650 publishing houses and 250,000 Arab-language books. Religious censorship is traditionally less strict at the book fair than in the country’s bookshops.

"It’s the first time that there has been such an outburst. This speaks volumes about the tension in the country."

Yasser, 22, is an IT student. He filmed the incident.


I was visiting the book fair in the afternoon of March 2, when I saw about 12 men enter into a heated discussion with the book sellers. At first, it was calm. However, the men then got quite worked up up and started to admonish the book stalls for selling ‘immoral’ books, such as novels with sexual content and works which are 'deist or speak ill of Islam.' The publishers dealt with them by sending them to the Culture and Information Minister, who had just arrived at the book fair.


Video published on an anonyomous YouTube profile.


Tensions flared, and the conversation took a turn for the worst. The minister retorted that the protesters were the only ones to find the books ‘immoral’. The Islamists began shouting: ‘You talk about freedom of expression and allow these heretic books, but you ban those which deal with Islam, such as the works of the Jihadist theorist Sayyid Qutb.'  Their tone became threatening,  prompting security guards to intercede and forcibly expel the rowdy visitors.


Video published on the YouTube profile of our observer.


Every year, the Riyad Book Fair is controversial, but this is the first time that there has been such an outburst. The incident speaks volumes about the current tensions in Saudi Arabia. Authorities have their hands full dealing with Shiite discontent in the east of the country. They cannot afford to let signs of dissent, however small, take place in the capital as well. The fact that the protesters in the book fair were immediately expelled shows the government is nervous and will not tolerate any form of criticism.”


The Information Minister later reacted on his Facebook page, criticising the 'harrassing of publishers and visitors'  and calling the book fair a 'cultural showcase for the country'.




Article written France 24 journalists Sarra Grira and Paul Larrouturou.