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Shahed Ballan and Muna Al Kindi (right) address a press conference in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The Arab Reading Challenge will get an X-Factor-style makeover, with the final rounds to be televised on MBC for the first time from September 27 at 9pm (UAE time), it was announced on Wednesday.

Sixteen semi-finalists from 14 Arab nations will be whittled down to the last five ahead of November’s final, which will be screened live at Dubai Opera. The overall winner will then be awarded Dh500,000 (from a Dh11 million prize purse) in the presence of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Shaikh Mohammad also posted a video on Instagram: 

The seven rounds leading up to this will be pre-recorded at Dubai Future Academy opposite Emirates Towers in DIFC, in a broadcast first for the competition, which was launched in 2015 as one of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to promote Arabic reading among local youth.

This year 13.5 million students, including 455,000 from the UAE, took part from 62,000 schools across 44 countries, with the competition starting in March. National winners from every Arab country have now entered the semis.

This is the fourth edition of the annual event, which encourages Arab youth to read 50 Arabic books a year, and then asks participants a series of questions on stage.

Children aged between 7-16-years-old targeted by the initiative, will progress through the rounds based upon their ability to articulate in Arabic. A panel of judges made up of high profile personalities from the Arab world will also mark participants on their personality and quick-thinking abilities.

Ten-year-old Mazna Naguib from Dubai is the UAE’s sole competitor in this year’s finals, having won her national final in July.

British-based production firm Freemantle, who are the creators of the X Factor, Idol and Got Talent franchises, will produce the show. As part of the format, a public vote will account for 30 per cent, when it comes to deciding a winner, while the panel’s decision will make up the remaining 70 per cent.

“This challenge has developed into a programme that will be delivered to the world and it will further encourage the public to participate,” said Arab Reading Challenge secretary general Muna Al Kindi.

“This is just the first step to deliver Arab culture and language to the public, and to encourage speakers to take up the language as a lifestyle. There will be other steps in the future,” she added.

“The reality show format will have a positive impact in every Arab home because it will highlight the importance of the Arabic language in an engaging manner,” said MBC host Shahed Ballan. “The programme will showcase the efforts and persistence it took contestants to reach this far.”

What is the Arab Reading Challenge?

Launched in 2015 as one of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to promote Arabic reading among local youth aged between 7-16-years-old, the annual event awards Dh500,000 to the overall winner based on their ability to converse and critically evaluate in Arabic. This year the competition will broadcast on television for the first time, with November’s final broadcast live from Dubai Opera in the presence of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

What is X-Factor?

A reality TV show, where members of the public can fulfil their dream of becoming the next big pop star by attending the talent-show type contest in the hope that they survive the cull to be crowned champion and awarded a record deal. The panel of judges is usually made up of past and present pop stars, agents and talent scouts, most notably British producer Simon Cowell, who is famous for disocovering the likes of Westlife and One Direction. The show started in 2004 and has been credited with changing the way acts are discovered.

Is Arabic a dying language?

With more than 300 million native speakers, spoken in 22 nations, Arabic will certainly remain one of the world’s major languages, but there is fear in GCC countries where expatriates make up the majority, local Arabic spoken by Emiratis may at the very least change to incorporate other dialects or languages, or become secondary to English. According to a study presented on World Arabic Language Day, the use of Arabic on the internet is decreasing and is currently less than one per cent. English, however, is increasing at 55 per cent.