RIYADH, 26 February 2006 — As a result of relaxing censorship rules in the Kingdom, a growing number of Saudi writers are emerging on the Kingdom’s literary scene. This seems to be the consensus of attendees of Riyadh’s International Book Fair, which runs through Thursday.
Abdullah Almojel, deputy minister for cultural relations at the Ministry of Higher Education, told Arab News that over 70 percent of the published books on display at the book fair have been published recently.
The International Book Fair is featuring approximately 360,000 titles, with about 250,000 of them in Arabic and the rest in foreign languages.
The book fair was turned into a media event with the launch of a book by TV broadcaster Turki Al-Dakhil, 32, on how he transformed himself from fat to fit. The book, “Muhammad for the Global Village” by Ayedh Al-Qarni, aimed at answering the recent controversy over the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that appeared mostly in European newspapers. The book was published in Danish as well as English.
Almojel spoke about the relaxation of the government’s censorship regulations, which has given a boost to the Saudi publishing industry.
The deputy minister said one of the highlights of the fair is the holding of intellectual seminars at which distinguished Arab writers, most notably Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, of “The Cairo Trilogies” fame, will speak.
One of the topics on the agenda is the impact of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the Saudi arts and culture. The deputy minister said more than 500 publishers are taking part in the fair, which takes up over 20,000 square meters of space at the Riyadh Exhibition Center. A special section has been allocated for authors’ signings.
“As many as 50 novels are being published annually by Saudi novelists. They tackle a range of subjects dealing with a variety of social issues concerning the youth problems, divorce, the breakdown of family values, the impact of satellite TV, etc.,” said Al-Dakhil.
The broadcaster explained how he slimmed down by a regular three-to-five-km walk, biking, dietary control and generally leading an active lifestyle.
Asked about the reading habits of Saudis, Ahmed Al-Otaibi, a student of English literature at the College of Languages and Translation (COLT), said he spends about SR100 every month on the purchase of books. He goes for new titles on Islam. He said novel reading as a habit was picking up, although quite a few Saudis read books online.
A majority of Saudi visitors to the show said they spend most of the time watching satellite TV. According to a survey conducted by the Arab Advisers Group, around 89 percent of Arab households in Saudi Arabia have satellite TVs.
While the peak viewing time was between 9 p.m. and midnight, some 54 percent of households continued to watch TV well past midnight, indicating a somewhat extended peak viewing time in the Kingdom.
Visiting hours for the book fair are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.