Riyadh Book Fair ’09

While I sincerely hope that the Ministry of Culture and Information would drop the word ‘International’ from the name of what has become the most important cultural event in the Saudi calendar, I’m glad that the Riyadh Book Fair is back again. Seeing the crowds celebrate books and reading is heartwarming, regardless of whatever gripes I might have about the organizers and their approach. The book fair is taking place for the first time at the new Riyadh International Exhibition Center on King Abdullah Road, which is much nicer and much bigger than the old exhibition center in Morouj.

If you plan to come, you may want to stop by at our table in booth SA-60 where my friends and I are volunteering to sell the books of fellow blogger Hadeel al-Hodaif who passed away last year. The proceeds will go to charity. We are also taking the chance to promote the Hadeel Prize, which will be launched later this year.

I think the book fair this year is better than the previous ones, except, of course, for the usual kerfuffles by the religious police. After making a scene with Abdou Khal, Abdullah Thabit and Halima Mozaffar on Thursday, they made another scene last night when they decided that saleswomen are not allowed to be there on men’s days. All saleswomen were kicked out. I really don’t see the point of having the religious police in the book fair, but it is obviously part of the compromise deal the Ministry of Culture and Information had to make with the conservatives in order for the book fair to go on.

The Riyadh Book Fair is open until Friday, March 13, from 10 AM to 10 PM. Some days or part of them are open to men only, so make sure to check this page before you drive there. Oh, I forgot that women are not allowed to drive. Never mind. Just go, have fun and enjoy the books. And if you have any recommendations, please do share them in the comments. See you there.

Hadeel Prize

Ever since blogger Hadeel al-Hodaif passed away earlier this year, friends and fellow bloggers have been thinking about different initiatives to honor and commemorate the young women who defended free speech and believed in a new era of citizen journalism. One of the first ideas that came to the minds of her friends is to establish a prize in her name to recognize the increasing efforts in the Arab world to start a freer media on the web.

This idea has finally materialized as fellow blogger Sami Omar announced today the launch of Hadeel International Prize for New Media (HIPNM), an international award that aims at discovering, encouraging and highlighting Arab talents in the new media arena. The prize will kick off next year in five categories: blogging, specialized blogging, personal blogging, podcasting and videoblogging. For more information, please contact Mohammed al-Saleh: media@hadeelprize.org / +966504877334

Jeddah Update

When the organizers of the L&T Symposium asked me few months ago who they should invite to speak about blogging in Saudi Arabia, Hadeel was on top of the list that I recommended. It would be hard for me to speak on the stage knowing that she is supposed to be there with me, but I will keep her in my thoughts and prayers.

I fly to Jeddah in a few hours. The symposium won’t kick off till Saturday, but I thought I would arrive a bit earlier to hang out with my friends and meet some people. I found out that fellow blogger Mohammed Milyani will also be speaking at the event but in a different session.

The symposium blog confirmed yesterday that Queen Rania of Jordan will be the opening night keynote speaker. If you want to follow the event keep an eye on their blog and this page. The sessions will be broadcasted live on ART (probably the open-to-air Ein channel), and it will also be webcast courtesy of MeduNet.

I’m not sure how often I will be able to update the blog while I’m in Jeddah but you can always check out my Twitter page to read some fresh bits and pieces.

Pray for Hadeel

Dr. Mohammed al-Hodaif, father of fellow blogger Hadeel, said earlier today that his daughter was found lying in her bed and she has gone into a coma. Hadeel has just celebrated her 25th birthday two days ago and I have been looking forward to meet her in Jeddah where we are scheduled to speak in a discussion panel at the L&T Symposium next Saturday. She is in the ICU now and her father said she is in a critical state. Please pray for her. الله يشفيها ويقومها بالسلامة يا رب

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Jeddah, Jeddah

I stayed in Jeddah for a week in 2006, and I loved it. The visit was to meet friends and fellow bloggers and also to see the city for the first time as I never been there before. I had a blast, and I’ve been seriously thinking about moving to Jeddah after I finish school here in Riyadh.

I will visit Jeddah again this week for a few days to participate in a conference. I was invited by Effat College to speak about blogging in the Kingdom at the 6th Annual Learning and Technology Symposium that will be held on April 26-27. As always, I’m lucky to have the company of great people who will share the stage with me. This time I’m honored to be joined by fellow blogger Hadeel al-Hodaif and videoblogger Baba Ali.

However, it saddens me that I won’t be able to see my friend Fouad when I visit his hometown. Last time I was there he took me to his favorite places in town and we had a lot of fun. I received the invitation and agreed to participate just a few days before he was arrested.

During the last few weeks I was hoping that he would be released before I come to Jeddah but unfortunately not much has happened since then. I thought about withdrawing because it will be painful for me to visit Jeddah again knowing I won’t see him, but then I decided it was better to go and talk about his case instead of staying home.

It is too late for you to register for the conference now, but if you happen to be a lady then you might be interested in another event hosted by Effat College this week. Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia is a play that touches topics concerning Saudi women and addresses many questions raised about them. The performance is open for ladies only, and the ticket price is SR 100. For more information, please call 0530899829 or 026364300 ext. 1316 or ext. 5001. (Hat tip to fellow Jeddawiah blogger Glow!)

Finally, I leave you with the unofficial soundtrack for my trip: Jeddah (My Hometown City) ’02 by Qusai aka Don Legend the Kamelion. Trust me, you want to give this song a listen!