From left: Najoua Ghriss, Professor at the Higher Institute of Education and Continuous Training in Tunisia, Jamal Bin Huwaireb, Managing Director of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation and Hany Torky, Chief Technical Advisor, Arab Knowledge Project, United Nations Development Programme at a session “The future of reading in the Arab world” on the second day of The Knowledge Summit 2016, in Dubai on Tuesday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE is the fourth-highest country that reads among the 22 Arab countries surveyed in the Middle East North Africa (Mena) region, according to the Arab Reading Index released on Tuesday.

The average UAE reader spends 57 hours reading 24 books per year, 18 of them in Arabic language, with the remaining eight books in foreign languages, suggested results of the new index.

The survey is the brainchild of Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to measure literacy in the region in order to build upon reading, the first pillar of knowledge.

The index was released at the third annual Knowledge Summit in Dubai on Tuesday, hosted by MBRF which noted that 148,000 respondents were involved in the survey in 22 countries to create a first of its kind database to help countries plan future education, societal and government strategies.

In the UAE, 81 per cent of 5,400 survey respondents said they believed “reading is an essential need in life” and a further 86 per cent agreed that “reading doesn't end with graduation”.

As many as 76 per cent of UAE respondents said they “respect people who read” while 50 per cent that “reading is important in the family”.

The UAE's high ranking score of 82 fell in the top quarter of countries in the survey, which was led by Lebanon with 90, followed by Egypt's score of 89, Morocco's 87 and Jordan's 71 per cent.

By comparison, Somalia ranked dead last with a score of three per cent.

Reading facts

Jamal Bin Huwaireb, Managing Director of MBRF, told delegates during the morning release of the index at the Knowledge Summit that the new numbers are based on fact and vary wildly from earlier suggestions in a 2011 report that those in the Arab region only spend six minutes a year reading a quarter of page as compared to Americans who reportedly read 11 books a year.

He said many Arabs took umbrage at such a ridiculous number, noting that affixing an annual reading time within only minutes was completely “illogical”.

The new Arab Reading Index, he said, shows that Arabs across the region are avid readers both while in school and later in adult life.

The index findings are important, said Huwaireb, “to observe reality in the Arab world based upon facts ... and to be able to measure the influence of such initiatives on societies.”

Huwaireb said that he “hoped index will be a guidance” for all involved to read more to gain lifelong learning toward the ultimate goal of knowledge.

Dr Najoua Ghriss, Professor of Higher Institute of Education and Continuous Training in Tunisia, welcomed the substantive data provided by the Arab Reading Index and lauded the UAE for seeking clarity on regional literacy.

“We need such an index in the Arab world to take social and economic development to a higher level,” Ghriss said on Tuesday at the summit. “We can't envision a community or society acquiring knowledge without being a reading one.”

Ghriss said people should not underestimate the power of literacy and said the more that youth “read, the more enlightened, the more open minded and learned they become".

"This, he added, "is a main driver for students to rediscover the pleasure of reading. Reading does not stop at the classroom door, it is something that stays with you all of your life.”

Top five most read countries

  • Lebanon, 59 hours of reading per year, 29 books
  • Egypt, 64 hours of reading per year, 27 books
  • Morocco, 57 hours of reading per year, 27 books
  • UAE, 57 hours of reading per year, 24 books
  • Jordan, 50 hours of reading per year, 21 books

SOURCE: Arab Reading Index available at