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Saudi writers publish abroad to escape censorship

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Several Saudi writers prefer to publish their work outside the kingdom, not only for international exposure but also to escape censorship at home and the restrictions imposed on topics tackled in books that are published domestically.

According to writer Abdullah Bekheet, Saudi writers basically resort to publishing in other Arab countries to escape censorship.

“For a writer to publish in Saudi, he needs permission from the Ministry of Information then his book has to be edited and corrected in accordance with publication regulations in Saudi,” he told Al Arabiya.

In Beirut for example, Bekheet added, books are not censored even if they are later sold in Saudi Arabia or displayed at the Riyadh International Book Fair.

Bekheet, however, objected to the way writers resort to foreign publishing houses even if they are not concerned about censorship.

“Many writers are only after more sales and use the censorship issue only for more propaganda even of the book faced no problems in the kingdom.”
Ahmed al-Harbi, head of the Gazan Literary Club, argued that many writers publish abroad to get a better chance to take part in international book fairs.

“Most writers look for more exposure through dealing with publishing houses that take part in international book fairs,” he told Al Arabiya.
Writer Mashari al-Zaydi disagreed with writers’ statements about escaping censorship.

“Saudi publishing houses have developed a lot now,” he said. “Writers used to work with Lebanese and Egyptian publishing houses because they are pioneers in this field and they guaranteed more exposure.”

According to Zaydi, local publishing houses are now becoming better than their counterparts in the rest of the Arab world.

“This applies to the quality of the books, the position of the writers and their exposure. Now one can see Moroccan, Lebanese, and Iraqi writers publishing in Saudi publishing houses.”

Zaydi added that censorship on books in Saudi is not as strict as it was.
“Censorship was much stricter before the Internet but this is not the case now.”

Zaydi noted that the Riyadh International Book Fair no longer puts books through strict censor process before their submission.

“Only when a book contains flagrant violations is it withdrawn from the book fair.”

Even in airports, Zaydi said, passengers are not searched and the books they carry on them are not checked.

Destination Beirut

Publishing houses located in the Lebanese capital Beirut get the lion’s share as far as the publication of Saudi books are concerned, according to Saudi researcher Amin Suleiman Sido.

“Beirut is the favorite destination of Saudi writers who publish abroad with 576 followed by Cairo with 360 books then Damascus by 76 books,” he said.
Sido wrote a book on Saudi writers who published abroad and which contains figures and statistics about writers and books.

“The writer who published most abroad is the late poet and minister Ghazi al-Qasabi who published 37 books outside Saudi even though he was a senior official who could have published locally,” he said.

Sido added that writer Osama Abdul Rahman comes second with 26 books then Hassan al-Qarshi and Islamic preacher Aaed al-Qarni with 25 books. Novelist Abdul Rahman Munif comes fifth with a total of 22 books.

According to Sido, four factors drive Saudi writers to publish abroad.

“First, books are not well circulated on the local level and only reach a limited number of book stores. Second, printing costs in Saudi Arabia are very high. Third, the content of books should not violate the cultural, intellectual, and social norms and is always subjected to censorship. Fourth, writers need more exposure.”

After Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus comes Kuwait with 49 books, Casablanca 44, Amman 33, and London 29.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)