Dubai: A total of 16 semi-finalists in the Arab Reading Challenge (ARC) will compete for the final round of the competition in the next two days.
The students, representing 14 Arab countries, are now competing to win the title of the Arab Reading Challenge champion and take home the Dh550,000 prize.
In its second edition, the pan-Arab competition launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, saw more than 7.4 million Arab students participating.
After coming out on top of hundreds of thousands of students in their countries who read dozens of books, the first batch of eight candidates gathered at the School of Research Science for the final evaluation by the judges.
The rules state that each school-aged participant must read at least 50 books, all of them in Arabic. Candidates are later judged on their understanding of concepts, skills in summarising, analysing and critiquing the books.
Out of 16 students, with eight others to be evaluated on Tuesday, the judges will choose the three finalists who will compete for ultimate honours at the grand finale to be hosted on October 18 at the Dubai Opera
Full of confidence and enthusiasm, the students cheered for one another after each candidate walked into and out of the judging room.
Emirati student Hafsa Rashid Al Dhanhani from Fujairah said she is hoping that the title this year will be for UAE.
“I’m very honoured to represent the UAE and compete for this title. I completed reading 50 books, ranging from psychology to novels and I believe that since the competition came out from the UAE, the title should come back for the UAE,” said the 15-year-old who won over 300,000 students participating from the UAE.
Meanwhile, an eleventh-grade Palestinian schoolgirl, Afaf Sharif, said it was already a victory for her and for Palestine to reach the final stages of the competition. This was her first time to participate in the competition.
“I was chosen as the reading champion from Palestine. I’ve read over 60 books and submitted 50 for the competition. The competition is not easy, especially with all these bright students. One of my biggest challenges was managing my studies and being part of the competition, but I managed to do my best,” she said.
For Rabab Abed Al Nadhir, representing Tunisia, this was her second time to participate in the challenge and she believes she can bag the award.
“Reading has always been my hobby, even before the competition. Last year I didn’t reach to this stage of the competition, so I took the challenge again and now I’m so excited for the results. It’s going to be tough, but I can reach my goal,” she said.
Laila Al Zebedi, a member of the judging panel, said this year’s participation has seen candidates with high level of intelligence and confidence, in addition to Arab students participating from 11 non-Arab countries.
“Last year 3.9 million students participated in the competition, while this year we have a huge response with 7.4 million students. We had younger participants in the first edition compared to the second, which mostly saw high school students. It is beautiful to see a generation that is directed towards reading,” she said.
During Monday and Tuesday’s evaluation, students would go through two tests, one of which is an oral test conducted in the form of an interview with the jury.
Bushra Suleiman from Algeria exited the hall smiling with relief. “I think I performed well. I’m happy the way I handled the answers. There was a lot on the work I submitted and my deep understanding of the books I read.”
On Wednesday, the three finalists will have to impress the judges with their answers on stage to win the title. The audience will also take part in an instant voting poll.
Launched in September 2015 by Shaikh Mohammad, the Arab Reading Challenge, with incentives worth Dh11 million awarded, hopes to instigate a cultural renaissance in the Arab world by encouraging students to read more.
Attending a higher committee meeting on Monday at the school, Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, and Secretary-General of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, said over seven million students, 75,000 supervisors and coordinators, 41,000 schools and 1,500 arbitrators have come together through the Arab Reading Challenge, which has allowed the challenge to reach new horizons.
“These figures show us the different stakeholders that have embraced our mission — students, teachers, schools, families and communities.”
He stressed that the challenge demonstrated that hundreds of thousands of Arabs can come together to work in unison on an initiative, and ensure its immense success. “The Arab Reading Challenge shone a light on the hidden role models of the Arab world; it is our duty to highlight their successes, and tell their inspiring stories.”
“Shaikh Mohammad believes that reading is the most powerful weapon against extremism, and that this is the force that will improve the future of the Arab world; he believes that books enlighten students, and encourage acceptance, tolerance and openness, which are the tools that Arab youth require to face their futures with optimism and success.”
Mustafa Abadadi (Mauritania)
Bouchra Maysoum (Algeria)
Dhouha Mahmoud Hussain (Jordan)
Afaf Sharif (Palestine)
Rabab Mubarak Abdul Nasser (Tunisia)
Ateka Adnani (Morocco)
Ala’a Ja’afar Al Bashir (Sudan)
Hafsa Al Danhani (UAE)
Noor Taboo (Lebanon)
Aisha Badea (Bahrain)
Shaima Al Amri (Kuwait)
Shaza Al Tuwairqi (Saudi Arabia)
Mohammad Mukhtar Al Salman (Saudi Arabia)
Abdullah Mohammad Ammar (Egypt)
Sherif Sayed Mustafa (Egypt)
Sama Bint Saleh Al Ameri (Oman)