UNESCO’s Sharjah Prize Goes to Istanbouli and Ben Boubaker

In News by Porter Anderson

The 19th edition of the Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture has been awarded this week at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

The French-Tunisian researcher Hajer Ben Boubaker and Lebanese actor and director Kassem Istanbouli at the June 26 award ceremony for the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture. Image: Tiro Association for Arts

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

Winners from Lebanon, Tunis
Two award points are here today (June 29), both involving Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

  • In one case, a major US$60,000 prize has announced its two winners.
  • In the other, two internationally pertinent awards of the Sharjah International Book Fair are now open for nominations.
UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture

In its 19th iteration, the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture has been awarded to the Lebanese actor and director Kassem Istanbouli and to the French-Tunisian sound director and independent researcher Hajer Ben Boubaker.

The UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture carries a purse of US$60,000 and annually splits that prize between two winners. It was established in 1998, an initiative of the author-emir of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.

Kassem Istanbouli

Honored in Paris on Monday (June 26), Istanbouli is the founding director of the Lebanese National Theater in Tyre and in Tripoli and since 2014 has been a project manager at Lebanon’s Tiro Association for Arts.

His work with Tiro has made him known for rehabilitating historic cinema facilities in the country, venues that were damaged or abandoned in wartime. Those locations include Stars Cinema in Nabatieh, and Al-Hamra and Rivoli in Tyre.

Istanbouli is involved with work in youth empowerment and skills development, and collaborative partnerships. In 2020, he co-founded the Arab Culture and Arts Network (ACAN) to design and implement online cultural activities in the Arab region. The network has more than 700 organizational and individual member.

In his comments, Istanbouli thanked Sheikh Sultan for his enthusiasm for theater as well as for the creation of the award, quoting the emir as saying, “Theater is the victory of science over ignorance.”

Hajer Ben Boubaker

Hajer Ben Boubaker’s research focuses on a socio-historical analysis of Arab music and the cultural history of the Maghreb community in France and in other parts of the world.

In 2018, she created and self-produced the Vintage Arab podcast, which explores Arabic musical heritage. The podcast draws on her work both in the arts and in research.

Ben Boubaker is a producer and documentary director for France Culture, where her work examines the sound- and political-memory of immigration. As a researcher, she’s associated with the Arab and Oriental music collection at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and continues to write for scientific journals, including Paris, capitale maghrébine: une histoire Populaire in October 2023.

In descriptive material about the prize, UNESCO writes, “Core to UNESCO’s anti-racism and anti-discrimination agenda, the prize promotes peace and dialogue to foster intercultural understanding and celebrate diversity.

A video from the award ceremony in Paris, with English subtitles, is here.


At the 2013 edition of one hall at the Sharjah International Book Fair. Image: SIBF

Sharjah International Book Fair Awards

Publishing Perspectives readers are very familiar with the annual Sharjah International Book Fair (November 1 to 12), the largest such public-facing event in the region.

The show is produced by the Sharjah Book Authority, led by chair Bodour Al Qasimi and CEO Ahmed Al Ameri.

Each year, the Sharjah book fair presents a series of honors including one for Best International Book in Fiction and Best International Book in Nonfiction. Books nominated for these awards must be written in English.

Each of the two winning books is awarded a purse of 50,000 dirhams (US$13,614), and each is divided between its author and publishing house.

Nominations are being accepted now for these honors, and the deadline is August 31.

Here are points for those submitting nominations to take into consideration:

  • A nominated book must be “new and unique in its field”
  • The first edition of the nominated book must have been published in the past two years prior to the current year’s Sharjah International Book Fair, no revised editions
  • A nominated writer must not have won the Best International Book Award from the program in the past two years
  • Book Fair organizers will not return submitted copies to nominators and they have the right to use covers and/or excerpts from awarded books in the show’s marketing communications without requiring approval from the publisher or writer
  • Winning writers will be invited to attend the awards ceremony prior to the book fair
  • All jury decisions are final, and winners are announced at the start of the fair
  • The value of the prize will be divided equally between the author and her or his publishing house, unless the publishing contract and intellectual property rights state otherwise
  • Recognition and appreciation shall be for the author

For information on nominations, see this page at the book fair’s site.


More from Publishing Perspectives on international book and publishing awards is here, more on UNESCO and its work is here, more on the Sharjah Book Authority is here, and more on Sharjah International Book Fair is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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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.com, 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.