Dr Shaikh Sultan at the London Book Fair. Image Credit: WAM

The recent naming of Sharjah as the World Book Capital 2019 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), coupled with the impressive turnout enjoyed by the Emirati pavilions at the London Book Fair, are two ground-breaking milestones that in no uncertain way vindicate those false allegations haunting Arabs since 1960s that we are a “nation that does not read”!

On the sidelines of the London Book Fair 2019, a world-class, much-awaited platform dedicated the cross-cultural dialogue of the publishing and media industry, His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, signed two of his history-based works translated to English: “Tale of a City”, and ”Bibi Fatima”, which captured much critical acclaim for the beautiful construction and the way the books addressed history of the Gulf region and the Arabian Peninsula in thorough details that highlighted many social and human conditions that added a significant value to the publishing industry and will go down in the annals of modern history.

The translation of such significant cultural and historical works into foreign languages is not but a well-thought-out approach by the Emirate of Sharjah; and their launch in an exhibition viewed as the ultimate gathering of international media and publishing gathering, translates the much-coveted ability of the Emirate to reach out to the cream of the cream and cultural intelligentsia.

Over and above, the launch of such cultural and historical treasures adds weight to the efforts being made to get the world acquainted with the history of the UAE in particular and the region in general and helps promote the Arab and Islamic voice among international circles in a rational, evidence-based, data-driven manner.

Dr Shaikh Sultan’s presence in the London Book Fair and his keenness to attend such key global cultural platforms articulates his determination to continue to prove that the Arab culture remains as an inexhaustible well of knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment.

The selection of Sharjah as the World Capital of Culture won’t have been achieved but for the strenuous efforts being tirelessly made by Shaikh Sultan across decades of diligent work to ensure UAE, in general, and Sharjah in particular, will be a key world hub for culture and dissemination of knowledge.

Within this context, His Highness, ahead of the London fair, made a tour of Portugal and Germany, last October, where he participated in the Frankfurt Book Fair and significantly contributed to strengthening Arab partnerships with key cultural and intellectual organisations and major European museums.

In its nomination statement declaring the Emirate as the World Capital of Culture, Unesco acclaimed Sharjah for the “innovative, comprehensive and inclusive nature of the application,” that featured “a community-focused activity programme containing creative proposals to engage the very large migrant population.” The world organisation applauded the efforts undertaken by the Emirate in order to promote “inclusively and outreach’, while “fostering a culture of reading in the UAE and birth new initiatives to meet the challenge of literary creation in the area and in the rest of the Arab world.”

The new much-coveted title only adds to the Emirate’s impressive track record of cultural achievements: Sharjah has previously been named Capital of Arab Culture in 1998, Capital of Islamic Culture in 2014, and Capital of Arab Tourism in 2015 – a series of prestigious regional and world recognitions that corroborate the fact that tolerance, inclusion, pluralism, and acceptance of others are quintessential Emirati values derived from Islam and from the noble Arabian traditions and heritage.

For her part, Shaikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Head of the Advisory Committee of Sharjah World Book Capital 2019, pointed out that the sought-after title is a worldwide testament to the global recognition Sharjah has acquired as a result of 40 years of concerted efforts led by the vision of His Highness Shaikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi.

The cultural edge now boasted by the UAE in general and Sharjah in particular only needs to be complemented by pan-Arab efforts this year, across various cultural departments and communities, to celebrate this global recognition and utilise it in highlighting the irreplaceable value of books in promoting dialogue and empathy among civilisations around the world in a way that both uproots such sinister allegations aimed at disfiguring the status of our Arab nation, and in the same time celebrates the intellectual project championed by Shaikh Dr Sultan for the Arab nation to lead by example and shine across all global cultural platforms.