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.

Another Human Rights Prize for Al-Lahem

Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, the well-known Saudi lawyer, was awarded earlier this year the International Human Rights Lawyer Award from the American Bar Association, but sadly he could not receive the award in person because he is not allowed to travel outside the country.

This week, al-Lahem has received another honor, winning the 2008 Human Rights Defender award from Human Rights Watch (HRW). The international organization called the Saudi government to immediately lift the ban on foreign travel for al-Lahem so that he can attend the award ceremonies in London, Paris, and Geneva this November.

“Barring al-Lahem from travel only highlights the severe and arbitrary limits to basic freedoms and fairness in the kingdom,” Christoph Wilcke, senior researcher on Saudi Arabia at HRW said.

I hope these calls will not fall on deaf ears, and I hope to see our two local human rights organizations make a statement, not just on behalf of al-Lahem, but also for all activists who has been working to promote the culture of citizens’ rights. It has been almost four years since the travel ban was imposed on the lawyer who has shown exceptional courage in his relentless effort to defend human rights in the Kingdom. Once again, it is about time.

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