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Banned Books Coming Back In Egypt and Tunisia

March 8, 2011
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A number of highly political titles censored by the regime of ousted Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali are now returning to the country’s bookshop shelves. 

La Regente de Carthage by Nicolas Beau and Catherine Graciet, a critical book about the former president’s family, focusing in particular on the role of his wife, Leila, is among those now openly on sale in the country, according to the International Publishers Association. 

Alongside it is a previously banned study of the long-serving Tunisian president from whom Ben Ali took over following a 1987 coup: Habib Bourguiba: La Trace et l’Heritage by Michel Camau and Vincent Geisser. 

Also now appearing in the country’s bookshops are The Assassination of Salah Ben Youssef by Omar Khlifi, a book about the shooting of a former Tunisian minister of justice in Frankfurt in 1961, and works by journalist Toaufik Ben Brik, a prominent critic of Ben Ali’s presidency. 

Alexis Krikorian, director of the Freedom to Publish programme at the IPA, said the emergence of these and other formerly banned books within Tunisia was “very good news”. Whether censorship still existed with regard to new titles was a separate issue, he added, but it was likely that the legal submission procedure, which under the old regime had been misused to block books at their printers, “no longer applies”. 

Anecdotal reports are also emerging of once suppressed titles appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks across Egypt. Salwa Gaspard of joint English/Arabic language publisher Saqi Books said accounts in the Arabic press told of books that had been hidden for years in private basements now once more seeing the light of day. 

Cairo is also to hold a book fair in Tahrir Square – the focus for protests against former president Hosni Mubarak – at the end of March, according to Trevor Naylor of the American University of Cairo Press bookshop, which is based in the square. Naylor told the Bookseller that the event had been planned in the wake of the cancelled Cairo Book Fair, which was abandoned in January in the face of growing political unrest.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick permalink
    March 9, 2011 9:54 PM

    While this sounds encouraging, the real noise out of Egypt should be the persecution of coptic christians which continues in the village of Soul and other Egyptian towns. In a part of the world where western jounrnalists are gang-raped and family members kill each other over “honor” killings, comments about “banned books” returning seem trite and ridiculous. Post on this again when one can read the New Testament in a cafe in Cairo or when one can convert from islam to christianity.

    While the people of Egypt have thrown off an oppressive dictator, they have yet to confront their own oppressive and tyranical culture–or so it seems to me.

  2. March 9, 2011 9:26 PM

    Let’s hope this trend continues. I don’t know what political climate will finally emerge in Egypt and Tunisia, but let’s hope it is one that welcomes free expression.

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