While the annual book fair in Riyadh has been the stage of some major controversies in recent years, it appears that the event has gone largely smoothly this year, except maybe for three incidents reported in the last few days of the fair that are worth mentioning here.
The first one took place Thursday night when a group of men allegedly barraged into the lobby of a hotel used by the book fair guests. The intruders reportedly went there to protest the mixing of men and women which they described as “the gate to Westernization of the umma,” according to Al Arabiya.
On the same night, four female college students were reportedly arrested for distributing small papers with conservative slogans written on them. Local media reported that the small papers were tied to pieces of candy and carried statements warning Muslim women against the CEDAW agreement. Saudi conservative female activists have for years lobbied against this UN agreement that aims to eliminate discrimination against women. The Saudi government have signed the agreement, but conservative women activists in the country like Norah al-Saad oppose it because they view it as an attack on Islamic traditional values of society.
The third incident happened Friday when cleric Yusuf al-Ahmed visited the book fair with a group of his students to tell female fairgoers to cover up, according to al-Sharq daily. The controversial al-Ahmed was jailed in July 2011 after he criticized the Interior Ministry of lengthy detention of terrorism suspects. He was sentenced in April 2012 to 5 years in prison with a fine and a travel ban, but he was released in November 2012 after the King pardoned him.