Mass audiences at two of France’s best known landmarks were given a unique insight into Emirati heritage as traditional song and dance performances took to the streets and parks of Paris at Montmartre Cathedral Square and the Eiffel Tower’s Champ-de-Mars as part of Sharjah’s celebration as Special Guest City at the 38th Paris Book Fair (Livre Paris). Image Credit: Supplied

The UAE has always embraced a forward-looking strategy to become a key player on the global stage in various fields, with an emphasis on culture, science and knowledge. It has strived to achieve high levels of growth and forge ahead with development, not only for itself, but for all Arab brethren.

The UAE has been overwhelmed with the Arab cultural project in the recent years, trying to rectify the stereotyping of the Arabs in the western world — an image that has been linked to terror attacks.

Culture offers a path to change this false and unsavoury image. Sharjah has become a synonym for culture, and is internationally recognised as a cradle for literature. The emirate recently celebrated its participation in the Paris Book Fair as a special guest city. Sharjah’s participation was a historical milestone in the emirate’s and UAE’s history.

The event underscored the deep-rooted and historical relations between the UAE and France — which witnessed unforgettable events such as the warm welcome to the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan during his visit to France after the second Gulf War, by the then French president Jacques Chirac.

The historical speeches by the two leaders reflected the mutual trust and respect for each other’s culture and future. Recently, the grand opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi marked a turning point in UAE-France relations, and emphasised the cultural values of this special relationship.

Last month, more than 150 participants, including theatre actors, artists, musicians, poets, novelists and media professionals, were among a high-profile delegation that took part in the Sharjah Pavilion in Paris, in line with the guidance of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah.

Among them were 40 literati from different generations and literary schools whose work were translated into French. They came to Paris to sign their books and share their experiences with the public as well as to meet and exchange knowledge with their French counterparts.

The delegation also included prominent cultural figures from several Arab capitals who presented the UAE’s and Arab culture in Paris. The overwhelming response to this initiative is precisely what Dr Shaikh Sultan had hoped for, as it turned into a historical event, not a mere visit to celebrate and honour Sharjah as a special guest city at the Paris Book Fair.

Even more impressive is the visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the Sharjah pavilion while he ignored the Russian pavilion in favour of Britain in its cold war with Moscow. Macron visited the Sharjah pavilion where he met with the Sharjah Ruler and expressed his admiration for UAE-French cultural venture dedicated to translating Emirati literary works to French.

A series of cultural and traditional events and musical activities took place at the Paris fair, where Sharjah spearheaded the fair’s representation of the deep-rooted Arab cultures, heritage and literature.

The streets of Paris and France’s best known landmarks came alive with Emirati folk dances and traditional songs. People from all over the world gathered at Montmartre Cathedral Square, the Eiffel Tower’s Champ-de-Mars and the Opera House where they got a glimpse of the Emirati heritage, traditional attire and dance performances.

The Arab countries that contributed to this project of enlightenment, driven by the soft power of their intellectuals, artists and thinkers, have helped dispel the stereotyping. If we continue this approach, we will be respected by others will become a beacon for generations to come.

Saeed Hamdan is an Emirati writer based in Abu Dhabi.