It is indeed a rare cause that can bring together people from all over the Arab world on a single platform. That was on display in Dubai this Wednesday, when children and educators from across the region smiled, were proud, had self-esteem and were united in an appreciation of the power of the written word, its formative influences, and the sheer joy of reading. A 17-year-old girl from Palestine beat 7.4 million contestants to win this year’s title as the champion of the Arab Reading Challenge, a UAE initiative that aims to promote cultural renaissance across the Arab world by encouraging students to each read more than 50 books a year and continuously expand their knowledge. This year’s participants came from a whopping 41,000 schools in 25 Arab countries.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, honoured the winners of the competition’s various categories and presented them their awards. The annual Arab Reading Challenge has become a seminal event, a testament to what the quest for knowledge means in a region that is riven by conflict and strife. It was a moment that celebrated both the innovation of the UAE and the vision of its leaders who have taken a lead in promoting a culture of reasoning and intellect. As flags of various Arab countries fluttered proudly at the Dubai Opera, participants — that included students, supervisors and educators — exulted in hope. For Wednesday’s joyous event, schools from Algeria to Bahrain logged in through Skype, showing the appeal of the programme and the potential that technologies have for embracing initiatives that promote more traditional activities.

Pertinently, the UAE has always led the way in showing that real progress can be obtained by investing in learning, equality, youth and embracing the ties that bind together people, generations, cultures and traditions. From the earliest days of its foundation, the UAE has always promoted and embraced culture, the arts, literature, heritage and their influence has grown in synchronicity. Events such as the Arab Reading Challenge, now in its third edition, go on to prove the success of the UAE as a soft-power nation — both in the region and globally.

Going forward, the Arab Reading Challenge will further help ensure that the importance of Arabic as a spoken and written word is vibrant, relevant and a cause of harmony. Indeed, Shaikh Mohammad deserves full credit and recognition for this great contribution to true Arab unity.