A group of authors have denounced and condemned Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the World Science Fiction Convention in 2022, saying that its human rights violations and discriminatory laws prevent it from being the right candidate.
The kingdom submitted its bid to host the convention in the city of Jeddah along the Red Sea, as this year’s convention is being held virtually in the New Zealand capital Wellington and the 2021 convention in US capital Washington, DC.
Its bid was protested, however, in a letter sent to the World Science Fiction Society which organises the convention, in which 80 science fiction authors stated that the “Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF [science fiction and fantasy] stands for.”
The authors of the letter, who include and are led by the renowned writer Anna Smith Park, officially opposed the kingdom’s bid due to a number of concerns over its actions in recent years, including its detention of critics and activists, the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and the assassination of the exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
“It cannot and must not be acceptable to stage an international event against this backdrop,” the letter reads. “Indeed, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi alone should be enough to render the concept of a literary convention in the country an absurdity.”
The authors claimed that “On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law,” and voiced their solidarity with the Saudi people, saying that a convention in the kingdom “will one day be possible”.
For now, however, they stressed that
We refuse to attend an event if those staffing it cannot have the same basic freedoms. We express deep concern that many members of the SFF community would be excluded from attending an event because of their sexuality, nationality or religious beliefs.
An author based in Jeddah, who helped organise the bid for the convention, Yasser Bahiatt, told the British newspaper the Guardian that the pushback against it is “absurd and unhealthy for the WorldCon in the long run.” According to Bahiatt, the convention “already is limited in its spread as it is mainly focused on western culture countries, and as long as it is the WorldCon, it must accept all of the world.”
Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the convention is the latest effort in its drive to attract international events and gatherings in order to further open itself up to the world and global tourism sector. As part of these efforts and its Vision 2030, the kingdom has been implementing a series of drastic social reforms, but criticism against its human rights abuses remains one of the largest obstacles in achieving legitimacy in fields outside of international politics.