By Chip Rossetti
The Iraqi Ministry of Culture has just taken the unexpected step of launching a program of official censorship of books imported from abroad. The new rule also applies to books published within Iraq, as publishers are required to obtain authorization before printing. Needless to say, this has provoked a hostile reaction from Iraqi publishers and booksellers, calling it “a great step backwards on the path of freedom of thought and expression,” as guaranteed by the new Iraqi constitution. A number of critics have pointed out another problem with the new rule in the Iraqi context: the possibility of sectarian influences in the Ministry of Culture affecting the decision about what books can or cannot be published. After what some intellectuals have called six years of “free circulation of books,” there is a sense that this is a return to censorship of the Saddam years.
Iraqi poet Saadi Yousef has won Morocco’s Global Arkana Prize for Poetry. The judges cited the Basra-born poet for his “tangible and driving influence on modern Arabic poetic consciousness.” Yousef’s most recent books of poetry include Tavern of the Thinking Monkey and The Last Communist Enters Heaven.
Egypt’s Supreme Council for Culture has announced that it will be holding a conference on the short story in Cairo on November 1-4, and has invited a number of international short story writers and critics to attend. At the conference, the winner of the Cairo Short Story Award will be announced, as well as the Yusuf Idris Young Writer Award. According to Akhbar al-Adab, the judges are split between two contenders — Syrian Zakaria Tamr and Egyptian Mohammed Hafez Rajab.