Shockwaves and Censorship: how the Arab spring has affected publishing across the Middle East

Future of Publishing

This is a guest blog by Anna Cunnane. Anna is Export Sales Manager at Kyle Books and Chair of the Society of Young Publishers. In her spare time she is learning how to create websites with HTML5 and CSS.

I recently became Export Sales Manager at illustrated publisher Kyle Books and the job is already changing how I see publishing both in this country and worldwide.

We tend to think of publishing and bookselling in very UK-centric terms but English language books are sold all over the world. The volumes that can be sold in export make it a significant revenue stream for many publishers. This is particularly important for illustrated publishers where the initial costs of producing a book are high.

The Middle East and North Africa is an area that is currently undergoing great change. Although they are majority Muslim, these countries are culturally and politically diverse. The Arab spring, which began in Tunisia in 2010, has further transformed the region’s cultural and political landscape. Some countries have lapsed into greater instability or dissolved into bloody chaos.

Even those countries where popular uprisings were intended to give greater freedoms to their citizens are not necessarily experiencing less censorship. Freedom of speech has suffered in many places since the advent of the revolutions. There are many regional variations in censorship that account for complicated cultural sensibilities. What is permissible in the relatively Westernised city of Beirut in Lebanon for example, would not make it into Saudi Arabia where state censors require copies of every book distributed in the Kingdom. Perhaps surprisingly the multicultural metropolis of Dubai recently banned the sale of cookery books with any mention of alcohol in them. Turkey’s pockets of rising Islamic fundamentalism are increasingly affecting what is published there.

Despite this mixed picture, UK publishers should look to the region with interest. For the buyers of ELT and educational products UK publishers have a prestige that is hard to replicate. High numbers of expats resident in the Gulf want to read books in English. The Saudi based bookselling chain Jarir announced a $293 million expansion plan last year. If brave publishing can support those ideals of self-determination and education that sparked the Arab spring we could see this fantastic region reach its full potential.



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