Kuwait has banned over 4,000 books in the last five years, including Disney's The Little Mermaid, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Why We Write.
The government of Kuwait, a nation once known as the “Hollywood of the Gulf,” recently acknowledged that it had banned more than 4,000 books in the past five years. The revelation comes as a shock to many amidst Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah’s desire to make the country a regional cultural hub. In Kuwait, where the third-largest book fair in the Arab world takes place every year, theater, dance, and music are under royal patronage, but reading the Disney version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is against the law.
Titles as prestigious as Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude to less controversial books along the lines of a Marvel Comics Encyclopedia have been outlawed, often times with unspecified or obscure justification if any at all. The Ministry of Information has a 12-member censor committee that determines what books are to be banned. Composed of six Arabic readers and six English readers, the committee doesn’t always give a reason for its decision. When it does, the justifications aren’t usually justified. According to The New York Times, George Orwell’s anthology, Why We Write, was banned on the premise that its editor had falsely accused her father of molestation. The Little Mermaid was axed because of her bikini.
Enraged by the increasingly long list of prohibited books, the country’s intellectual elite—amongst them activists and censored writers themselves—have held three protests outside the National Assembly within the past month. Though Kuwait is one of the few Gulf countries that allow public protests, they’re strictly controlled, and attendance is weak due to temperatures that reach up to 100 degrees. Pictures of now-forbidden books are making the rounds on Twitter, along with the hashtag #Banned_In_Kuwait and #Don’t_Decide_For_Me. “Now books are becoming like drugs,” said Hind Francis, an activist with Meem3 a Kuwait anti-censorship group, to The New York Times. “You have to have your banned-book dealer.”