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Can books be banned in the UAE?
It's a question many people have asked after the Festival of Literature canceled the launch of The Gulf Between Us.
March 2, 2009 11:37 by Aarti Nagraj
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature ended in Dubai on Sunday, March 1. Judging by the media’s coverage, it was successful; it had award winning authors, it courted controversy, and held a debate on censorship.
Though the controversy surrounding the launch of Geraldine Bedell’s book The Gulf Between Us managed to die down after the festival organizers clarified that the book was not banned, it led to a crucial question: Can books be banned in the UAE?
We spoke to Ibrahim Al Abed, director general of the National Media Council and asked him. He said:
The only books that are not permitted to be distributed in the UAE are those which are considered to be pornographic in nature or which have content which is offensive to any religious belief, since these are considered to be contrary to the mores, ethics, culture and heritage of the country.
No books have been “banned” for many years, either by the National Media Council or by the former Ministry of Information and Culture, which was previously the relevant government body.
Kipp: Is there a procedure distributors need to follow before distributing a book in the UAE?
“The procedure for securing approval for the distribution within the UAE of books published overseas is that lists of books should be provided by the distributor to the National Media Council for approval. No books, with the exception of those of types mentioned above, have been “banned” for many years and it is the standard policy of the National Media Council, insofar as possible, to permit all books to be distributed freely, without any delay.”
If there is no ban on books, then why is there self-censorship? Like in the case of the book The Gulf Between Us?
“Some booksellers and distributors may choose to practice “self-censorship” and not to apply for permission for distribution of particular titles, but this is a matter entirely for them, whether taken on commercial or other grounds. The National Media Council, as the government’s regulatory body, is never aware of such decisions, unless they are specifically drawn to its attention, and has no idea of what books distributors and booksellers may choose, of their own accord, not to stock.
“With regards to the decision by the organizers of the International Literary Festival not to agree to have the launch of the book ‘The Gulf between us’ during the Festival, this is purely a matter for the Festival organizers, who are a purely private institution. The National Media Council was not involved in any way in the planning and arrangements for the Festival. However, I should note that it is always a matter for organizers of festivals of this type to determine which books they may, or may not, wish to have launched during their events, as is the case anywhere in the world.
“We understand that the publishers of the book were advised of this decision in September 2008, long before the current wave of publicity overseas suggesting that the book had somehow been ‘black-listed.’ This was a misrepresentation of the facts. All that had happened was that the Festival organizers decided that it would not be launched at the Festival. The book has not yet been published. Presumably, in due course, if a copy of the book is submitted to the National Media Council for approval for distribution, by any booksellers or distributors, the NMC will take the necessary action.”