Khaled Abdullah Al-Rowaishan:  “Despite our limited budget, we are still committed to encouraging our young talented men and women to publish their fine poems and writings.” [Archives:1999/18/Interview]

May 3 1999

The officials of Yemen are aware that publishing costs in the country are quite high. For a nation that doesn’t publish enough, they thought it is important to make publishing easier for young writers. That was the logic behind the government’s decision to help out. The General Board for Books was established on 21/08/1990 – one of the early actions of the newly unified Yemen. The idea was to foot the bill for publishing books. Budding authors were now able to side-step a major hurdle. However, good intentions alone aren’t enough. 
Ismail Al-Ghabry of Yemen Times went to talk to Mr. Khaled Abdullah Al-Rowaishan, General Manager of the General Board for Books since August 1996. Khaled has his BA degree from Cairo University. He worked for ten years as Director of the Cultural Department at the Presidential Office prior to his present post. 
Q: What is the goal of the General Yemeni Committee for books? 
A: Our objective is to publish and supervise the general Libraries in various parts of the country that are directly concerned with issuing Yemeni Books. We also take care of and supervise the public libraries. These are the ” Dar Alkitab,” the “Alsultania,” and the “National” libraries. 
Q: What has the committee done so far? 
A: We have printed more than sixteen Books so far. The most important of these is a book called ” Aljaama.”Our attempt to print a hundred books is under way, and we are printing twenty books now. The rest will be completed within three of four years. We publish the important creative writing of Yemen’s authors. Yemen has distinctive poets and authors, but they are ignored by most of the people. We at the committee are encouraging the young poets and writers to publish their works, and we will be printing another twenty books this year. 
Q: What are the titles of some of these books? 
A: Most of what is written in Yemen is similar to that in any other Arab country, most of it is creative fiction. We are trying to take care of the young writers and show the world our best. 
Every beginner has the right to have their first works published by the government, and we in the committee try to take care of these people. We have published several beginners’ works. There is a history book called “Aljaama,” which is one of the most important books we have printed, as well as poetry, stories, domestic idioms etc. that we have done. We also issued a religious book, “Roaya Qurania Li Kawanin AlKawn,” by Usamaa Alkhader, the committee has also issued poetry works for the young ignored poets. 
Q: What is the Committee’s budget? 
A: That is a difficult question to answer, because the committee is employing 500 people. Therefore, our budget is huge, but most of it is paid as salaries to the employee’s. The large number of employees is due to our combining with the former 14th of October Foundation. We used to employ 20 people, but it jumped to 500 with the committee branches in Sanaa, Aden and Hadrahmout. Our problem of too many employees is faced by most of the foundations. 
Concerning the budget for books, it is quite inadequate, with only around three to four million Rials for purchasing and printing them, but we print as many books as we can on this budget, as well as purchasing many of the books that are issued from other Arab countries. 
Q: Are most employees administrative or vocational? 
A: Most of the workers were part of the 14th of October foundation, which distributed books in the former South Yemen. That organization had a monopoly on the distribution of books. Therefore, they had a very large focus on distribution and sales. This means many of our employees are still working in these areas, but we are passing on the duties of distributing books to the private sector, so they are no longer needed in their old capacities. Now, we publish and sell only the books which we print, and we only purchase books which are issued in the Arab world for the ” Dar Alkitab” and the “National” libraries. These are open to readers, and so we provide people with the latest issues from the Arab countries. We are putting much emphasis on this duty, rather than distribution as the former 14th of October was doing. 
I would like to add that the available workers are not concerned with book printing. Most of them the chosen people are concerned with Distribution and Accounts only. We are trying to balance the role of the two foundations. In Egypt or any other Arab country, our organization would only be publishing, but here we are also overseeing various libraries which are available to out readers. In other countries, these two jobs are carried out be separate organization. 
Q: How do you select the books which will be published? 
A: The selection of the books is made by a council elected by the General Books Committee, which includes the the president and the deputy of the committee and some important highly educated writers and poets. If they accept a work, then we print it. 
Q: Are there any councils to whom authors can present their works? 
A: Yes, the author has to come and represent his work to the committee. Then his work will be presented to the council, which will be formed of a few people inside and outside the committee who are professionals in these field. They decide if the work is accepted. That is not part of our work, we just print books and educate people. We are trying to avoid the shackles of bureaucracy that would slow everything down. 
Q: What are your latest books? When were they issued? 
A: Our latest issued Book is ” Aljaama.” I know of many others due to my Job in Administration, and I can’t remember all that was issued. But I would like to add that we encourage the young Yemeni female poets, we try to help the young ones which haven’t issued any poems before. It is an encouragement from the committee to these people, and if we didn’t encourage these people, the might have not written at all. The committee comes under the authority of the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, but we are administratively and financially independent. The ministries supervision is on the Administrative side, like any part of the ministry. 
Q: Do you have your own press? How do you print the books? 
A: There was a possibility of buying a press, but we still we don’t have a press, because of the cost. Most Arab publishers doesn’t possess their own press, but print their books in other presses. If we possessed a press, it brings with it many difficulties and problems of its own. The easier and cheaper way is to have the printing done by the private sector. 
Q: Most people ignore the role of the general books committee. Why? 
A: I think that the problems we have had in the past, as well as the continual issuance of books means that people ignore the publisher. Also, some of our books were criticized by outside literary authorities, which makes people think poorly of us. A day does not pas without hearing that there is criticism or news about the books printed by the general books committee. However, I think that the committee is in its brightest days, and it was established in the year 1990. Despite the stopping of most projects in other government establishments, we at the committee have been able to carry on. Concerning books, the political facts in the country hinders the work, and unfortunately the committee does not take any responsibility because the country is mired in politics and there is no time for concern over literature and creative writing. 
Q: What are the committee’s future plans, and is there any cooperation between you and the ministries of culture and media? 
A: No, because they are the supervisors and we follow their lead. Concerning the plans which we follow, we will have achieved 50% of our plans within two or three years, and we have made halls for seminars, lectures and artistry collections, as well as specialized exhibitions. We have also started a book shop, and we sell our books to the public at good prices. All these works were not performed previously by the committee. We have started printing for the young people, and we have established general libraries for reading in the capitals of the governorates of Haja, Dhamar, Mareb and Hodeidah these are the four libraries. In addition, there are libraries for juniors between ten to fifteen years of age. There are five libraries under construction, financed by the UN. In some of the governorates, the land and housing will be provided, and we will provide the books. We have plans to inaugurate libraries for general reading in Haja, Dhamar, Mareb, Lahej, Hodeidah. 
Q: What are the major obstacles that you face? 
A: The major obstacle is the debt of the former 14th October Foundation. This debt has fallen on us, along with all of their employees. The foundation was taking the books from the Arab world and distributing them, and not making any money. It has about $ 500,000 of debt, and we can’t pay it off. I have tried to start to pay our debts, and we really started paying these year, particularly to ” Alahram” in Egypt, as well as some of our Lebanese publishers. The books from them form the nucleus of a Library, I have stopped selling books which we have purchased, because they are needed for the libraries which I am intending to form this Year. This is a major obstacle, besides the huge number of employees. This is not only a problem for us, but for many other public sectors as well. 
There is another obstacle, with the workers we have available to us. Many of our employees were hired and trained for ordinary distribution. They are not related to printing or producing or writing books. However, I can say now that we have overcome most of these obstacles in our year 2000 budget. We have received authorization from the prime minister for the necessary funds for these poets. He assured us that the money will be included in the year 2000 budget. A memorandum was sent to the finance ministry concerning rebudgeting in this sector. 
Q: Do you have any last comments? 
A: I hope to overcome the obstacle in the committee, after publishing the work we get from our young writers and the cultural books, which deserve printing so that our books reach the Arab countries and the world. 
We are also trying to improve our translation so that we could translate the most important issues in the world into Arabic. This is so that we can add international culture to our domestic culture. There will be more books from the translation sector; in the coming years, there will also be Arabic books about Yemeni culture translated into English, as it will be one of the ways to show the Yemeni culture to the outside world. Finally, I would like to thank the people in the Yemen Times for their initiatives, by coming and taking care of the Yemeni culture and Yemeni Literature.