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Hadeel Anwar Al Zubair, the Arab reading challenge winner of 2019, with her father Anwar Al Zubair and mother Sanaa Al Toom during the Arab Reading Challenge at Dubai Opera in Dubai. 13th November 2019. Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News Image Credit:

Dubai: Hadeel Anwar Al Zubair said she would use her Dh500,000 prize money to build a library in her native Sudan after winning the Arab Reading Challenge at Dubai Opera on Wednesday.

The 13-year-old outdid 13.5 million students from 49 countries to win the year-long competition, and was awarded on stage by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Shaikh Mohammad said, “The Arab Reading Champions are the hope for our region to effectively contribute to the journey of human progress.

Hadeel Anwar Al Zubair is crowned Arab Reading Challenge winner for 2019 Irish Belleza, videographer

“We are the real winners of enlightened Arab youth and winners of the hope they have brought to our region. Our youth demonstrate our region’s capability to reignite its profound history as a beacon of civilization and knowledge.”

Al Zubair, who also won a scholarship at Abu Dhabi University along with 15 other semi-finalists, said, “My aim is to use the money I have won to build a library in Sudan that attracts children to come and read.

“I want to build it in Khartoum the capital and the heart of Sudan. I want it to include a wide range of books to inspire readers in every field that interests them.

“My aim in reading 1,000 books this year will continue and I will achieve that by the end of 2019. For next year, I’m going to raise the bar and challenge myself to read 2,000 books.”

The final round of the competition, televised live on MBC, saw five finalists answer questions on stage within a one minute time frame.

Hadeel was asked to name books that she believes would impact a person’s life, and with loud cheers from the audience, Hadeel said “My Story” by Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid was one of the most life-changing books in her opinion.

“This book doesn’t only change an individual’s life, it changes societies, it builds nations,” she said.

Hadeel’s parents, mother Sanaa Al Toum and father Anwar Al Zubair, a general in the Sudanese Army, showed pride in their daughter’s achievements. In reaction to the university scholarship, Al Zubair’s mother said, “I’d be open to her taking up the offer. Studying in Abu Dhabi would be a great honour and pride for us.”

In a burst of confetti and cheers, Hadeel broke down in tears the moment she was called the winner of the Arab Reading Challenge. Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid hugged the emotional finalist and comforted her before presenting her with the prestigious award.

His Highness Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, was seen comforting the other finalists.

“He told me I’m a very eloquent speaker and that I have a bright future ahead of me,” said Abdul Aziz Al Khaldi, 17, from Kuwait. “This did not surprise me as the Shaikhs in the UAE have always shown great support and encouragement to people from all Arab nations.”

Other finalists were Fatima Al Zahra Akyar from Morocco, Aya Boutreea from Tunisia and Jumana Al Malki from Saudi Arabia.

Immam Al Nawawi School for Boys in Saudi Arabia won the best school award and received a Dh1 million prize.

Principle of the school Ahmad Mohammad Asiri, said, “This prize will be utilised to benefit the school, the students, the staff to enrich reading into society.”

All students from the school read 50 books and six students reached the finals at provincial level, with three reaching the national finals. The school distributed more than 25,000 books among students and local communities and held 103 social and cultural events throughout the year.

Who is Hadeel Anwar Al Zubair?

Nationality: Sudan

Age: 13

Class: Grade 7

Ambitions: Aspiring doctor

The only child to her parents, Hadeel found her inspiration and support system in her family. Her mother, specifically, has been the sister and friend. She aspires to be a doctor and an author whose works bring positive impact to society. She dreams of channeling her capabilities and skills in science and knowledge towards helping those in need and eventually becoming a goodwill ambassador. Hadeel considers being the Arab Reading Challenge’s national winner to be a lifechanging moment.

The ambitious social butterfly, as she calls herself, loves being part of volunteer work and awareness campaigns of different social issues. Hadeel’s first and last passion is reading. Her hobbies include swimming and painting. Her list of books includes The Alchemist for Paulo Coelho, The Power of Positive Thinking for Norman Vincent Peale and Planet Google for Randall E. Stross. Her favorite author is Sudanese Tayeb Salih and favorite character is Salma from Ghazi Al Gosaibi’s novel titled Salma. Hadeel’s role model is the revolutionary leader Nelson Mandela for his pursuit to freedom. If she were to portray a character, it would be Sophie from Jostein Gaarde’s Sophie’s World.

Hadeel dreams of completing her studies in Britain. ”Being part of the Arab Reading Challenge brings me great pride and honour. I have gone a long way of persistence and willpower to be chosen out of 13.5 million students. My aim upon participating was to challenge myself through managing my time and controlling my thoughts. I wanted to grow my knowledge, linguistic and communication skills.

What she told Gulf News ahead of the final

I heard about the competition on social media, I looked it up and got interested. As I expected this challenge has broadened my cultural awareness, my linguistic skills and my comprehension skills.

I was a reader since I was six but my serious reading and my ability to critique and analyse the books began when I was eight.

I always set annual goals regarding to my reading. This year I’ve set a goal of 1000 books to be completed before the end of 2019. So far I have read 766.

At the start my parents were my biggest supporters, they encouraged me to participate and get this far. Now, however, it is the whole of Sudan that are supporting me and cheering me on.

The most important aspect that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid was aiming for, is reading and awakening the Arab youth with the power of reading. If anyone wants to participate in this challenge they should feel strongly about an issue or a case that they can speak about with passion and innovation so that it can be your message or purpose in this challenge.

The Arabic reading challenge has instilled reading as part of my life. For me, reading has always been a lifestyle. For others, it may just be a hobby.

If I am named the champion in this competition, I would like to dedicate this title to every reader, to those who make the Arab nation proud, and to every young Arab doing their part in celebrating their heritage. As for the financial prize, I hope to initiate and open a library in Sudan where all types of books could be found to enrich the culture of reading in my hometown.

Other winners 

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Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, hands over the trophy to Amira Najeeb, for the outstanding supervisor, during the Arab Reading Challenge at Dubai Opera in Dubai. 13th November 2019. Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Egyptian supervisor wins Dh300,000

Amira Mohammed Nagib from Egypt won the award of most distinguished supervisor, with a prize of Dh300,000. The winner, who supervises this competition in Cairo, told Gulf News that the incentive behind promoting reading among her students is, “To spread the love for reading, improving their languages, becoming highly educated who is aware and can build their nation and society.”

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Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, hands over the trophy to Mahmoud Bilal from Sweden, winning student among those living inn foreign countries, during the Arab Reading Challenge at Dubai Opera in Dubai. 13th November 2019. Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Swedish boy wins Dh100,000

Young winner from non-Arab country is Mahmoud Bilal from Sweden. The 10-year-old, originally from Syria, was awarded Dh100,000 for winning the title. The boy expressed gratitude to Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid for this initiative and the chance to come to Dubai, which was the young winner’s dream. The young winner also dreams beyond the books, “I aspire to be part of the UAE’s mission to Mars one day.”

Abu Dhabi University to cover tuition and accommodation of 16 students for 10 years

In a big boost to the reading champions from the Arab region, Abu Dhabi University has announced full scholarship for all 16 semifinalists of the Arab Reading Challenge for next 10 years.

The announcement was made after the University signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives in the presence of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on the sidelines of the grand finale of the Challenge on Wednesday.

Speaking to Gulf News later, Prof. Waqar Ahmad, chancellor of Abu Dhabi University said the University is earmarking a fund of Dh56million for offering this scholarship for the next 10 years.

He said the scholarship would cover both tuition and accommodation through the course period at the University.

“We are delighted to have signed the MoU in the presence of Shaikh Mohammad. We have agreed to fund full scholarships for all 16 winners. It is going to be 10-year-long partnership.”

“We are talking about around Dh350,000 per student. If we calculate it for 16 students for 10 years, it would be Dh56million.”

Prof. Ahmad said the University is initiating the scholarship as it recognises the importance of reading.

“The most successful nations in the world are those where knowledge economy is underpinning the success of the country and in a knowledge economy, reading is absolutely fundamental.”

He said the eligible students can opt from a vast variety of courses offered by the top-class university and can choose between the mother campus in Abu Dhabi or the one comping up in Al Ain in September.

“The MoU is in place now and we are ready to welcome the students,” he said.

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Majida El Roumi, Lebanese soprano, performs in the presence of Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al maktoum, Crown Prinnce of Dubai, Lieutenant General Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior annd other senior officials, during the Arab Reading Challenge at Dubai Opera in Dubai. 13th November 2019. Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

A celebration of the Arabic language 

The grand finale of the Arab Reading Challenge was a grand celebration of the Arabic language and the unanimous love for the mother tongue across the Arab countries. The flags of the Arab nations and other participating countries dotted the Dubai Opera along with the larger-than-life posters of the 16 semifinalists.

Hundreds of people belonging to various Arab nations dressed in ethnic attires cheered the UAE leaders and the reading champions who are spearheading the global campaign to promote their mother tongue.

Majida El Roumi's song for hope performed during the Arab Reading Challenge Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporter

Prominent Lebanese singer Majida El Roumi performed a specially-produced song of hope during the Arab Reading Challenge final ceremony, written by Egyptian poet Medhat Al Adl and composed by Lebanese Michel Fadel.

After her performance, El Roumi told Shaikh Mohammad: “Dear Shaikh Mohammad, you have brought into your heart your sons and daughters from all around the Arab region. You have brought into your heart the future of the Arab world. Those from all the Arab countries who live among you [in the UAE] live in their own home, Dubai, the capital of the future.”