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Tunisia: Mixed opinions over censorship at book fair

A book titled "The Tunisian Frankenstein" by author Kamel Riahi is displayed at the Dar El-Kitab book shop in Tunis on April 29, 2023.   -  
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Return of censorship or not in Tunisia? Saturday at the International Book Fair in Tunis, opinions diverge in the aftermath of the withdrawal of an essay criticizing the president Kais Saied and the closure of the stand of his publishing house.

The publisher of the book "The Tunisian Frankenstein", illustrated by a caricature of Mr. Saied, has reopened its stand in late morning, ensuring AFP to have "cleared misunderstandings" with the organizers of the Fair.

Friday, security officers had seized all copies on sale and closed the stand of "La Maison du Livre", a major Tunisian publisher, arguing a "possession of unauthorized book.

And this less than an hour after the inauguration of the Fair by President Saied, who came to launch a fervent appeal "to liberate thought".

After removing the tarpaulin covering his stand on which he had affixed the sign "closed by an arbitrary decision", Habib Zoghbi of the House of Book retracted Saturday of his accusations of "censorship.

"The book in question was not confiscated for its content but because it was not on the list initially submitted to the direction of the fair as required by the rules," said his publisher.

This novelized essay is presented by its author Kamel Riahi as a "political" book, evoking a Frankenstein personified by Kais Saied, elected according to him by surfing on the anger and frustrations of a people disappointed by the system in place since the Revolution of 2011, the first of the Arab Spring.

Regretting the "hot statements", the publisher hammered that the withdrawal of the book "was not censorship but a matter of procedure. He said he had omitted it from his initial list, due to delays in printing.

Mr. Zoghbi assured that a few copies "are available in bookstores in Tunis," that it will be reprinted and should return to the Fair by its end on May 7.

On the neighboring stand of the publisher Meskiliani, closed Friday "in solidarity" with the House of Books, the manager remains convinced that the refusal of a book not previously registered is only a "pretext for censorship.

Mortadha Hamza refers to "a book that traces what happens to opponents of the president" who denounce "an authoritarian drift" since the coup de force of Kais Saied July 25, 2021 by which he was granted full powers.

- "not normal" -

"It is not normal that in 2023 we can censor the idea, writing, under any pretext," he said.

Nevertheless, he reopened his stand on Saturday, "the first real day of the Fair" where families flock to take advantage of big discounts on books, usually very expensive.

On the stand of the publisher Nirvana, which faces the House of Books, Mohamed Bennour relativizes the incident around the book.

According to him, the obligation to provide in advance a list of books exposed "has been around for a long time" and dates back to the era of the father of the i

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