"Marxism, Baathism and the Torah in Riyadh”
Sultan Al-Qahtani reported in Elaph, a pan-Arab website, on March 5 that: “During the past few days that passed, Saudi Arabians could read Marxists and Baathists books and buy copies of the Torah and Bible in their home town of Riyadh where the majority follow a conservative vision of the Muslim religion.
This occurred during the past few days of the opening of the ‘International Riyadh book fair’ in a bold step by the Saudi government that revealed the extent of the fast rhythm of reform in the petrol rich Kingdom.
A decade or two ago, finding books that are prohibited in the country was not conceivable. For almost a week or more, Saudi males and females wondered around the cultural exhibition halls holding heavy bags filled with books that they will not find after the end of the exhibition in their libraries.”
Al-Qahtani continued: “Observers found Riyadh’s position to be [based on] multiple standards; allowing what is banned for a few days then returning the ban until the next round of the fair.
Saudi critics observing the consequences of the different reform steps of the Saudi government since the events of September 11 see the Saudi cultural and Information Ministry as attempting to balance the Saudi government, headed by the Saudi king Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz, that is encouraging openness and the religious clerics that claim that the steps [diverge from] the conservative line in the country considered to be the cradle of Islam.
“The [information] Ministry and its minister are moving in a field of suspicions along two conflicting paths; the pressure to increase the open initiatives supported by the liberal movements and those from the conservative Muslim movements that have already instigated many attacks on the Saudi Minister, the latest of which reached the extent of the demand to dispose of him following the bold steps that that he took with the TV programs that the first official channel broadcast in the country; [the critics issued a] warning ‘concerned leaders of his dangers and plans’.
”Al Qahtani concluded: “The Saudis spent around $50 million in the international book fair during the short period of ten days making it the biggest Gulf fair... For the first time, Saudi’s experienced the culture of live book signing by the authors.
Moreover, the majority of the publishing houses did not shut down their exhibition [spaces] during prayer times as all places do in Saudi Arabia due to an absence of the moral religious police that follows up on these issues and described as the moral ruler of the country.
Consequently, Arab intellectuals visited the halls at different times while repeating that the fair is like a liberal space inside a wide ‘conservative’ circle that the Saudi capital Riyadh is known for.”
- Elaph, United Kingdom
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