March 1, 2011
Banned books unbanned in Tunisia and Egypt
by Melville House
Books once considered too dangerous, scandalous, or offensive are now beginning to see the light of day according to this report in the Guardian by Benedict Page.
Living up to the ideals of the popular democratic revolutions that sparked region-wide protests and demands for greater political freedom, the people of Tunisia and Egypt are exercising and enjoying their right to a free press. In his report, Page outlines several titles making their way back into circulation that were censored by the exiled former president of Tunisia, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali:
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.
Page also reports that long-banned books in Egypt are starting to be circulated at street sales and newspaper kiosks. As we mentioned last week, the newly instituted Tahrir Square Book Fair is set to take place later this month. One imagine publishers will take full advantage and put out loads of books on their tables they would once have only brought out when asked discretely.
Still, as Page alludes, there’s an open question as to whether this new-found desire to un-ban books will translate to a commitment against censorship when it comes to new works. One hopes that in the midst of the excitement generated by these new freedoms the folks doing the hard work in creating transitional governments and drafting new constitutions will make a firm commitment to the freedom of the press.
If not, I suspect the people won’t be timid about voicing their disapproval.