With the country’s book fair — the third largest in the Arab world, after Cairo and Beirut — scheduled in November, officials have pushed back. “There is no book banning in Kuwait,” read a recent statement by the Ministry of Information. “There is a book censorship committee that reviews all books.”
An assistant minister of information, Muhammad Abdul Mohsen al-Awash, elaborated. “In Kuwait, over the past five years only 4,300 books were banned out of 208,000 books — that means only 2 percent are banned and 98 percent are approved,” he said. “Some books are being banned in the U.S., Europe, Beirut and other countries, too.”
In the past 11 months, he said, 3,600 books were approved by censors, while 700 were banned.
Yet, he insisted, “since its inception, Kuwait has always been known for its sponsorship of literature and culture.”
It is a particularly sensitive issue because Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, has pushed to make his country a regional cultural hub. While theater, dance and music are under royal patronage and exempt from censorship, books are not.
“That cultural hub just cannot happen when you have a book massacre like this, all these books being banned,” said Bothyana Al-Essa, a Kuwaiti author whose book “Maps of Wandering” was banned. Kuwaiti censors banned the book over a child abuse scene set in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, she said, but the Saudis never banned the book in their country, where it was a best seller.
Bans have for the first time extended to many international books and reference books already on Kuwaiti shelves, at least in part because of parliamentary pressure, critics say.