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Saudi Arabia’s Bid to Host Worldcon 2022 Receives Backlash from Renowned Authors
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Saudi Arabia’s Bid to Host Worldcon 2022 Receives Backlash from Renowned Authors 

More than 80 science fiction and fantasy (SFF) authors have signed an open letter showing objection over Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the Worldcon 2022. The authors, led by fantasy author Anna Smith Spark, have been protesting against the idea of one of the genres’ biggest World Science Fiction Convention being held in Jeddah as they believe that “the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for”.

Renowned writers like Charles Stross, Juliet McKenna, Stan Nicholls and Catriona Ward have signed the open letter, which points to the fact that homosexuality in the kingdom is illegal and punishable by death. The letter also highlights the restrictions on freedom of speech and the horrifying murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The letter, which has been addressed to the board of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and the Worldcon 2022 chair, Norman Cates, reads: “On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law. 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.”

While this year’s Worldcon is scheduled to be held virtually this Saturday in New Zealand, Washington DC will be hosting the World Science Fiction Convention 2021. Besides Jeddah, Chicago has also submitted a bid for the Worldcon 2022. The convention has been running annually ever since 1946. Members of the WSFS select the location and the winners of the prestigious Hugo Awards by voting.

The protesting authors have acknowledged the fact that hosting the convention in Saudi would “open up a new world to fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to travel there, and show solidarity with creative communities within Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.” However, the writers don’t agree with the event being hosted in the kingdom so soon.

“We stand in solidarity with those who seek change in the country. And we write in protest but also in hope – that by raising awareness of the political situation in Saudi Arabia a WorldCon SA will one day be possible.”

Yasser Bahjatt, one of the science fiction authors leading the bid by Saudi Arabia – JeddiCon – said, “We believe in their right to express concerns or even distaste for a Worldcon in Saudi Arabia, but demanding that we should not be allowed to even request hosting it is absurd and unhealthy for the Worldcon in the long run. The Worldcon 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.”

While the WSFS has been a bit contemptuous over the concern raised by the authors, the response from the readers, publishers and writers has been “astonishingly positive” according to Spark.

Spark said, “Our community has expressed deep solidarity with the people of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and disgust that the UK and US governments have such long and deep links with the regime. It’s the Saudi regime that is the antithesis of everything SFF should stand for, absolutely not Islam or Arabic culture to which both science and literature are hugely indebted.”

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