Tunis Int’l Book Fair: Controversy erupts following closure of publisher stand

Tunisia’s International Book Fair in Tunis has become the center of controversy over possible censorship as an essay critical of President Kais Saied was withdrawn and the stand of the publishing house was closed. The book in question, titled “The Tunisian Frankenstein,” featured a caricature of President Saied.

After a temporary closure, the publishing house reopened its stand, claiming to have resolved misunderstandings with the fair organizers. The previous day, security officers seized all copies of the book and shut down the stand of “La Maison du Livre,” a renowned Tunisian publisher. They cited the possession of an unauthorized book as the reason for their actions. These events took place shortly after President Saied inaugurated the fair and emphasized the importance of liberating thought.

Habib Zoghbi, the publisher of the book, later retracted his accusations of censorship. He clarified that the book was not confiscated due to its content but because it had not been initially included on the list submitted to the fair’s management, as required by the rules. Zoghbi expressed regret for his earlier statements and explained that the book had been omitted from the list due to printing delays.

Zoghbi assured that copies of the book were still available in bookstores in Tunis and that it would be reprinted and returned to the fair before its conclusion on May 7th.

Neighboring publisher Meskiliani, which had closed its stand in solidarity with “La Maison du Livre,” believed that the refusal to accept a book that had not been previously registered was merely a pretext for censorship. Mortadha Hamza, the manager, criticized the act as unacceptable in the year 2023, emphasizing the need to protect the freedom of ideas and writing.

Despite the controversy, the fair continued with other publishers, such as Nirvana, downplaying the incident. According to Mohamed Bennour of Nirvana, the obligation to provide a list of books in advance has been a long-standing requirement, dating back to the previous generation.

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