Sharjah International Book Fair Opening Stresses Publishing’s ‘Light in the Darkness’

In News by Porter Anderson

As the 11-day Sharjah International Book Fair is formally opened to the public, its chief patron warns of the importance of the ‘light’ of literature.

On the opening day of the 36th annual Sharjah International Book Fair, the Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi was joined by Muhammad Saber Arab, Egypt’s former minister of culture, in a visit to the Kalimat stand in Hall 2, to speak with the Sheikha Bodour bint Al Qasimi, Kalimat publisher and founder of the Emirates Publishers Association. Image: SIBF

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Al Qasimi: ‘The Light of Truthful Words’

The concert lighting and dramatic pyrotechnics that formally opened the 36th annual presentation of Sharjah International Book Fair‘s (SIBF) 11-day run didn’t prevent the emirate’s ruler from carefully reminding the world publishing community of contemporary threats that might be mitigated by a more robust assertion of literature’s humanizing potential.

In measured, urgent tones, the Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi spoke of “hidden hands” that work to turn “our sons’ minds” to a dreadful “darkness,” in the interpretation of simultaneous translators at Wednesday’s (November 1) opening ceremony at Sharjah’s big Expo Center.

Such politically sensitive comments weren’t made lightly, and Al Qasimi spoke without a script. His assertion that the power of a reading culture can help curb extremism and violence was delivered not only to hundreds of guests from the Arab world, but also to publishers and rights specialists from many other parts of the world. They were gathered for the conclusion of the book fair’s three-day professional program.

As provided to the press overnight, the official translation of Al Qasimi’s comments describes his remarks this way:

“Shadowy hands have been promoting malevolent ideas that darken understanding and brain-wash individuals, divesting minds of science, intellect, knowledge, culture and light, preying on our young sons and daughters.

“These ideas,” Al Qasimi said, “threaten our Islam, beliefs, culture, heritage and very existence.”

Several times, His Highness referred to his high regard for neighboring Egypt’s stance, saying, in part, “Darkness can only be faced with the light of truthful words, science and culture and stressed the importance of Egypt and its historical role in ensuring the region’s security, standing as it does like a fortified citadel that fights destructive ideas and practices that harm the Arab world.”

Al Qasimi then awarded Sharjah’s Cultural Personality of the Year honor to Muhammad Saber Arab, Egypt’s former minister of culture, one of several countries’ dignataries on-hand for the day’s events.

Philip Parham, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, speaks on opening day at Sharjah International Book Fair, where the UK is Guest of Honor this year. Image: Porter Anderson

A Royal Walkabout at the Fair

His Highness then personally handed trophies and certificates to a wide group of recipients, the fair-opening recognitions including:

  • The Turjuman Award, presented to Editorial Verbum S.L., a Spanish publishing house, for its translation of One Thousand and One Nights, Luis Rafael Hernández, director of the Verbum, accepting
  • Best Emirati Book by an Emirati Creative Writer: Nadiya Al Najjar for her novel The D Trilogy
  • Best Emirati Academic Book: Maitha Majed Al Shamsi for her book The Semiology of Sign in Contemporary Emirati Theatre
  • Best Emirati Book Award about the UAE: Rashid Ahmed Al Mazrouei for The Encyclopedia of Popular Proverbs
  • Best Arabic Novel Award: Abdullah Al Basees for Wolf Trap
  • Best International Fiction Book: Lauri Kubuitsile for The Scattering
  • Best International Nonfiction Book: Sophie Le Ray, Radhika Punshi and David B. Jones for Game Changers
  • Best Local Publisher: Dar Molhimon of the United Arab Emirates
  • Best Arab Publisher: Dar Al Mada of Iraq
  • Best International Publisher: Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Company of India

Following the hour-long opening ceremony, Al Qasimi then visited many of the stands and exhibitions of the fair personally, an annual walkabout tradition that reflects the royal family’s dedication to promoting the books culture and industry of the region.

Al Qasimi and his security retinue swept briskly through the halls of the Expo Center, surrounded by wide-eyed schoolchildren, teachers, and parents who were there for the show’s first day.

At Sharjah International Book Fair on its opening day, November 1, 2017. Image: Porter Anderson

Al Ameri: ‘The People’s Principles’

Sharjah International Book Fair is reportedly the world industry’s fourth largest such event.

This year, it features 1,650 publishing houses from 60 countries, and is said to display more than 1.5 million books in many languages at the fair, which covers more than 14,600 square meters.

In opening comments of his own, Sharjah Book Authority’s tirelessly upbeat chairman Ahmed Al Ameri—who oversaw the opening on Monday (October 30) of Sharjah Publishing City—is quoted, saying, “Year after year, Sharjah extends its cultural message through science and knowledge, a message which this fair has established over many years, reflecting the country’s ideals and the people’s principles.”

Al Ameri told the audience that more than 620 books with 14 million words have been translated from and into Arabic as part of SIBF’s translation grant program, launched in 2011.

Sharjah International Book Fair continues its 2017 run through November 11.

At the high table during the Sharjah International Book Fair opening. At left are the Sheikha Bodour bint Al Qasimi and Michiel Kolman, president of the Internaitonal Publishers Association. At center are Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi and Muhammad Saber Arab, Egypt’s former minister of culture. Image: SIBF

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.