A group of Saudi conservatives caused a row in the Riyadh International Book Fair as they slammed some poetry books as 'un-Islamic' and objected to unveiled women reporters covering the event.
More than 500 Saudi conservative preachers, usually referred to as “virtue promoters,” engaged in fiery disputes with journalists at the Riyadh International Book Fair and tried to harass and pick fights with visitors on the grounds that they were engaging in 'unethical' practices.
They also accused the book fair administration of violating Islamic teachings by displaying “carnal” poetry books and hosting female reporters that do not don the ‘appropriate’ Islamic dress code and cover their hair. Security staff interfered, arresting almost 100 people.
Others who have not been arrested staged a sit-in in front of the fair’s southern gate and threatened not to leave unless their colleagues are released.
The administration of the book fair called upon all visitors to leave immediately and had to close early.
Confrontation with culture minister
Protests by Saudi conservatives started as soon as Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja arrived at the book fair to attend a book signing ceremony for a prominent Saudi writer, Abdullah Ben Idris.
Protestors called Khoja to take immediate action to stop of what they described as “secularism” and “violation of Islamic teachings.”
“We appreciate your efforts, but the presence of women and the display of books that contain secular and destructive ideas are against Islam,” one of them told the minister. “These books contain carnal poetry and apostate concepts.”
Protestors urged the culture minister to introduce reforms in Saudi’s state television and the general media in the kingdom as they saw them as promoters of ideas that violate Islamic principles.
“You have to know that we are in the country of the two holy shrines and that what we see in the media is against Islamic law,” on of them told the minister. “This is an attempt at estranging Muslims in their holy land.”
Minister Abdullah Khoja inaugurated the Riyadh International Book Fair on Tuesday, which is considered the first of its kind to enjoy a relative freedom of censorship in Saudi Arabia. More than 700 publishing houses take part in the book fair with more than 300,000 books. The book fair lasts for 10 days.
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)