From left, Nadia Verjee, Executive Director, Expo City Dubai, Boutros Boutros, Divisional Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing and Brand, Emirates Group, Mohammed Ahmed Al Murr, chairman of the Board of Directors at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Library Foundation, Isabel Abulhoul, CEO and trustee, Emirates Literature Foundation, Dr Saeed Mubarak bin Kharbash, CEO of Arts and Literature at Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and Salem Humaid Al Marri, director general of MBRSC at a press conference to announce the opening of the Emirates Literature Festival 2023 in Dubai on Wednesday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi will tell stories from space to school students on a weekly basis during his six-month mission on the International Space Station (ISS), it was revealed on Wednesday.

His videos will be beamed to schools every Thursday via a new website, top officials of Emirates Literature Foundation (ELF) and Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) said at a press conference to announce highlights of the 15th edition of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (Emirates LitFest) that kicked off this morning.

On Wednesday on his Twitter account, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, praised the role played by the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in cultural creativity and book industry.

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On its Crystal Edition, ELF has partnered with MBRSC to launch “ELF in Space”, a family education programme, announced Isobel Abulhoul, CEO and trustee, Emirates Literature Foundation.

The programme will see children engage with astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi on his six-month journey at ISS. “The dynamic interactions with Sultan and other astronauts involved in the programme will serve us to stimulate, engage, excite and educate students across the UAE and region,” said Abulhoul.

Educational content from space will be aired to schools on a weekly basis under the ELF in Space initiative, said Salem Humaid Al Marri, director general of MBRSC.

“Videos that will be taken from space and then be broadcast, either live or pre-recorded and put on a weekly basis on a website. And that will then go to all schools,” he told Gulf News.

He said Al Neyadi will be talking about his life in space, his routine, the importance of reading and science etc.

“We hope that this kind of a partnership will create something valuable for the community.”

Dedicated website

Abulhoul said there will be a dedicated open space website that will be launched to stream the space sessions.

Al Neyadi, who will become the second Emirati in space after Hazzaa Al Mansoori, is scheduled to head to ISS for a six-month mission on February 26.

Al Marri said ELF will be a key partner that will support with all educational content for the space mission. “I believe this initiative will support in building a new generation of scientists, researchers, dreamers…The partnership with ELF provides a unique platform to engage, excite and educate students with the journey of astronauts.”

As future leaders and innovators, he said young learners have a crucial role to play in shaping the future of space exploration and discovery. Engaging with them through fun, interactive, and educational sessions, ELF in Space will give an opportunity to inspire and ignite their curiosity, foster creativity and equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, he said.

The dynamic interactions with AlNeyadi and the other astronauts involved in the programme, Nora Al Matrooshi and Hazzaa Al Mansoori, will serve as the stimuli to engage, excite and educate students across the UAE and the region,” he added.

Abulhoul told Gulf News that the website would be launched close to Al Neyadi’s space mission. “Schools around the UAE and the region will be able to sign up to get their weekly session and then it will stay on the website.”

The new website would be dedicated to ELF in Space beyond the six-month mission of Al Neyadi, she confirmed.

“We wanted to create something educational that is focused on children and make sure it’s available in both Arabic and English. After six months, the sessions will be archived and we will keep adding anything that comes out of MBRSC,” she said, indicating that the website would become a repository of educational material on all future space explorations by the country.

COP 28 Book clubs at Expo City Dubai

Abulhoul also announced another partnership with Expo City Dubai that will organise a series of book clubs and student talks in the lead up to COP28 and beyond.

“We both believe in connecting minds and empowering the future and all of the things that Expo has done so well. We want to continue that with relevant books for the book club, and to encourage people to come in the evenings to join in to have the conversations. I'm sure there'll be authors flying in,” she said.

The Foundation will collaborate with Expo City Dubai on a nine-month long programme that is centred on environment, sustainability, reducing gender inequalities and other themes derived from the UN sustainable development goals. The Foundation will curate a series of book clubs and talks with Expo City Dubai, that connects everyone to the importance of individual and collective actions, to preserve our planet for future generations.

Nadia Verjee, executive director, Expo Dubai Group, said: “Expo 2020 Dubai brought the world together so that we might learn from each other, and begin to know one another better. At Expo City Dubai, we will continue to harness that legacy, ‘Connecting Minds and Creating the Future’ through the active exchange of ideas and perspectives, the sharing of stories and the pursuit of solutions for the great challenges and opportunities of our time, including climate action, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“The ‘Expo City Dubai Connecting Minds Book Club,’ in collaboration with ELF, is an opportunity for the wider community to join us at Expo City Dubai, to continue to reflect on, challenge and evolve the way we think about the world. Further, it is one part of an extensive range of programmes and events that will foster intercultural and intergenerational exchange as we prepare to host the world again at COP28, and look to inspire individual and collective climate action, from the UAE to the world.”

The journey to COP 28 begins tonight, at the opening ceremony of the Festival, the iconic Desert Stanzas, interpreting a narrative that calls for climate change through poetry, performance and music. The 2023 Festival programme boasts a strong ESG category including talks and discussions by UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Mariam Almheiri; Former CEO of Unilever and co-author of Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take, Paul Polman; President of the Emirates Marine Environmental Group, Major Ali Al Suwaidi, and environmental journalist, Anna Turns.

GDRFA chief takes road down memory lane

The UAE’s annual literary extravaganza began on Wednesday morning. Major General Mohamed Ahmed Al Marri, Director General of General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) was among the speakers who enthralled the audience on the inaugural day.

Speaking on “Dubai, A Friend—Past, Present and Future,” Major General Al Marri took the audience back to the pre-union days of the UAE and Dubai and traced the tremendous growth of the emirate and the country.

Major General Mohamed Ahmed Al Marri, Director General of General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs
Maj Gen Al Marri during his talk at the Litfest Image Credit: Supplied

He recounted life in the desert. “It was burning hot and scorching sand. We hardly had plants and flowers. Very rarely we used to see cars.”

Slowly, streets were made. Schools, hospitals and cultural and sports clubs started. After the union of the seven emirates, the growth of the country was so quick that it became difficult to recall how some things were.

Lauding the visionary leadership of the country, particularly that of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for the astronomical growth of Dubai, Al Marri said: “We need to respect and appreciate it to give back all that Dubai has given us. All of us need to take care of this beautiful city to work diligently and fulfil responsibilities.”

He pointed out that there was no room for bad behaviour in Dubai which has opened its arms to welcome people of more than 200 nationalities.

Urging everyone to work towards the progress of Dubai, he also highlighted how the emirate has liberalised visa rules for residents and visitors.

Starry mix of celebrities, authors

With a starry mix of Hollywood celebrities, award-winning authors and experts leading the field on matters shaping the world, the festival will feature almost 300 sessions, ensuring there’s something for everyone, from live music and poetry performances to workshops, film screenings, and of course inspiring talks from some of the biggest names in literature. The Festival takes place at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City, and across the creek at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library till February 6.

The exciting line-up includes Brian Cox, Emmy-award winning patriarch of the hit streaming series Succession; master-storytellers Mohsin Hamid, Alexander McCall Smith and Jeffrey Archer; children’s writers David Walliams, Ben Miller and Oliver Jeffers, Indian journalist Barkha Dutt, and renowned writer Reza Aslan, who will be in conversation with author and Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, Omar Saif Ghobash, and Malaysian journalist and author Marina Mahathir; award-winning Iraqi novelist Inaam Kachachi, notable Saudi poet Jassim Al Saheeh and Emirati author Maisoon Saqer Al Qassimi, 2022 winner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

“The scale of the programme is our greatest yet with 270 authors from around the world participating this year, representing more than 50 nations worldwide”, said Ahlam Bolooki, Festival Director.

“What remains the same is that the Festival is the place where stories happen, and the range of topics presented over the six days include not just talks and discussions aimed at avid readers but conversations and performances that will engage and enthrall those that do not consider themselves book lovers. The Festival has cemented its reputation as a showcase of global names, a launchpad for new authors and an incubator for world-changing ideas.”

Partners speak

Boutros Boutros, Emirates’ Divisional Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing and Brand said: “We’ve been supporting the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature since the very beginning, and we’re pleased to have helped grow the event by connecting over 1,200 storytellers, writers and thinkers to the diverse community of book lovers here in the UAE since 2009. As the title sponsor of the festival, Emirates’ support has helped empower local communities to explore new and unique perspectives and experiences, and we look forward to uniting literature buffs with authors who inspire them and enrich their daily experiences.”

Dr Saeed Mubarak bin Kharbash, CEO of the Arts and Literature Sector at Dubai Culture, affirmed the importance of the Emirates LitFest’s role in activating the literary movement locally and globally, saying: it has “turned into a qualitative cultural event that annually brings together a group of creatives, writers and authors to discuss topics that reflect the uniqueness of the local and global cultural and creative scene, which supports the commitments of Dubai Culture aimed at empowering creatives and supporting all the cultural and creative events taking place in Dubai, as important platforms for showcasing the creativity of talent”.

For its 2023 edition, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature has joined forces with Mohammed Bin Rashid Library to expand its reach across the creek.

“We are pleased with this strategic cultural partnership with the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, one of the most prominent platforms for promoting the cultural and literary scene in the UAE, enriching the intellectual, creative and knowledge landscape across the Arab world,” said Dr. Mohammed Salem Al Mazrouei, Board Member of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library Foundation.

Celebrating Gibran

The Festival will be marking the 140th anniversary of famous Lebanese American author Gibran Kahlil Gibran’s birth and the 100th publication anniversary of his magnum opus The Prophet with two unique events. The weekend kicks off early with the screening of an animated adaptation of the 1923 book and a live discussion and Q&A with producers Clark Peterson and Haytham Nasr, and director Roger Allers. Fans of Gibran can also be a part of a limited seats dinner and show event with artistic depictions of Gibran’s work and life through song, music and visual performance while enjoying a specially curated menu by Chef George, who hails from Bsharri, Gibran’s birthplace.

Recipes by inmates

There will be a number of book launches at the Festival including a unique new book by ELF Publishing, Feeding the Soul, that features recipes by the inmates of Dubai’s penal and correctional institutions. The free session will feature a panel discussion with Abulhoul, Director of Women’s Prison at Dubai Police, Colonel Jamila Al Zaabi and cookbook author and social media influencer, Zahra Abdalla discussing the culinary journey behind the initiative, the process of weaving stories with sustenance, the positive impact the project has had on the inmates and why food feeds our souls as well as our stomachs.

Day for publishers

The Festival will continue to cater to the industry and the business of books with a day dedicated to publishing. Aspiring authors in Arabic, English and other languages, can select sessions of their choice from the vast offering on writing, editing, illustrating, translating, and industry secrets, whilst publishers can purchase a Publishing Pass to gain access to all the sessions in this strand.

The Festival also offers day-long, weekend and student passes and a limited-edition all-access Crystal Pass with exclusive entry to the Green Room. Also returning is the Festival Fringe, with a host of fun free events and performances for all the family. The Festival will also host 20 festival directors from around the world, representing international literary festivals, in an extraordinary general meeting of the Global Association of Literary Festivals. The conference will discuss impact and challenges for festivals and propose collaborations pertinent to the changing industry.

The Emirates LiFest is the flagship event of the Emirates Literature Foundation, held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. The festival is organised in partnership with Emirates Airline and Dubai Culture & Art.