Marcia Lynx Qualey
Last updated: 27 November, 2011

Censorship Update: Libya un-bans books

Earlier this month, the Toronto Star’s Mitch Potter (@MPWrites) attended a “book unbanning” ceremony in Tripoli, Libya. The ceremony took place at a royal palace that had been converted into a Qaddafi-era library.

Potter seemed particularly taken with the music, as he tweeted: “#Libyan bagpipers put a huge smile on my face tonight at ‘book unbanning’ ceremony in #Tripoli aimed @ unraveling #Qadhafi era.”

He wrote in The Star that, “the VIP crowd made its way to the top for of the palace, heaped with table upon table of books deemed unreadable during Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year rule.”

The books on display apparently included those about Saddam Hussein, Israel, Hezbollah, and sex, as well as fiction by Salman Rushdie. Even better: Many of the titles that were being held by the Libyan censorship office then went on sale at a special four-day book fair.

At the event, Said Abdullah al-Harati, of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, told Potter, “Our struggle is not just military, but intellectual. Gadhafi fought science, he fought knowledge. And so we are now looking forward to a state founded on the knowledge he wanted to deny.”

Libyan authors also have been reaching out to international events. The group “100 Thousand Poets for Change” announced at this year’s Sharjah Book Fair that Libyan-American author Yusra Tekbali had pledged to join next year’s “Poets for Change” event on September 29, 2012 with an event in Tripoli.

Meanwhile, Tunisia has taken several steps forward in un-banning books, although Internet censorship has remained a contested issue. Egypt has unfortunately yet to see a real change in censorship policies. If anything, the military council has tried to get tougher on various popular media.

However, controversial playwright Laila Soliman has said that the recent period has seen an easing toward theater. She told Qantara, “The censor’s office doesn’t work right now, because we have a transitional government and a transitional ministry of culture. So nobody knows what the rules are, or even who makes the rules. The army has its own censor, but they probably think that theatre isn’t important. They are more worried about television, newspapers, bloggers and internet activists.”