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Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi and Christos Diman, the Deputy Minister of Culture in Greece during the inauguration of Thessaloniki International Book Fair in Greece. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: Emirati culture takes centre stage in Greece as Thessaloniki opens its 20th international book fair celebrating Sharjah as guest of honour.

“We are the proud descendants who cherish the knowledge and understanding they fostered,” said Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) in her opening remarks

This sentiment captures the essence of Sharjah’s pivotal role as the first Arab Guest of Honour at the 20th Thessaloniki International Book Fair (TIBF), and is a testament to the enduring bond between Greece and the Arab world.

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Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, along with Sharjah delegation during her tour at the opening of the Sharjah Pavilion at the TIBF

Biggest edition

As TIBF’s biggest edition yet gets underway, hosting 850 exhibitors, more than 1,500 Greek and foreign authors, speakers and book professionals from 40 countries in over 500 events.

Bodour Al Qasimi emphasised the importance of reading to boost intercultural understanding with a simple yet effective example.

“The average time it takes an adult to read one page is 2 minutes. In the polarised world where we live today, reading about each other and discovering the beauty in each other’s culture should be the mission of every one of us.

“Our presence here today as the guest of honour is an invitation for you to have a window into Sharjah and the United Arab Emirates,” she added. She also extended the audience a warm invitation to explore the events, exhibits and other offerings for a “glimpse into the heart of Sharjah.

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Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, along with Sharjah delegation during her tour at the opening of the Sharjah Pavilion at the TIBF

Sharjah Pavilion

Following the official opening of TIBF, Al Qasimi unveiled the Sharjah Pavilion, marking the commencement of the emirate’s participation as the Guest of Honour of the 20th edition. The pavilion received Dr Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri, the UAE Ambassador to Greece, who was briefed on the exhibits, including books by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, works by Emirati authors, as well as heritage displays and artefacts showcasing the beauty of Emirati heritage.

Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi continued her tour of TIBF, meeting with several exhibitors and publishers. She reviewed publications from participating Emirati and Arab publishing houses and expressed her admiration for the cultural and literary richness on display at the fair.

Open horizon for discussions

Mayor of Thessaloniki Stelios Angeloudis welcomed the Sharjah delegation at the fair. He highlighted that the emirate’s global cultural efforts have reconnected Greece with both the contemporary and historical aspects of Arab and Emirati culture. He affirmed that Sharjah has consistently been at the forefront of fostering dialogue and communication with Greece.

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Timeless bridge

Christos Dimas, Deputy Minister of Culture of Greece welcomed Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi and the Sharjah Guest of Honour delegation to both Greece and TIBF, saying: “We are very proud to host you today and also proud to celebrate the Thessaloniki International Book Fair (TIBF). As you noted, the 4,569 km separating Thessaloniki from Sharjah seems insignificant when books possess the power to transcend borders and connect cultures, people, and societies. We believe books are the most potent tools for cultural diplomacy, serving as bridges between nations and fostering mutual understanding. With enthusiasm, I assure you of Greece’s commitment to traversing that distance once more to participate in the upcoming Sharjah International Book Fair, as we did previously, and we are very keen to forge stronger ties with SIBF, Sharjah, and the UAE.”

Underscoring the spirit of cultural exchange that defines Sharjah’s engagement at TIBF 2024, Nikos A. Koukis, President of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture, said: “This year Sharjah, the first city in the Arab world to be honoured by the Thessaloniki International Book Fair, is a city that stands out because it is the intellectual centre of the Emirates and which has distinguished itself in recent years, especially for its actions and programmes for the book.”

“In fact, Sharjah’s women are particularly active in the book industry, with Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi leading the charge. Her openness, collaborative spirit, and initiatives have been instrumental in this progress. What I want to emphasise is that Sharjah is not just participating as an honouree with events and actions but has been seriously engaged in the timeless bridges of culture and dialogue of the Greek and Arab world and has already worked a lot in programs involving Greek writers and creators and will be further developed in the future,” Koukis stated.

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Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, along with Sharjah delegation during her tour at the opening of the Sharjah Pavilion at the TIBF

Unique leader

For her part, Nopi Chatzigeorgiou, Director of the TIBF, highlighted Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi’s international efforts to advance the publishing industry and her support for women publishers. She said: “Sharjah has a leading figure with a significant and tangible impact on global publishing. Her initiatives towards women have made a considerable difference in the contribution and presence of women publishers worldwide.”

Guest of Honour Week

As the fair unfolds, Sharjah’s Guest of Honour programme promises a diverse array of over 30 panel discussions, workshops, and heritage shows.

A key highlight of the programme is a session titled “Unlocking Worlds: Children’s Literature and World Book Capitals.” During the discussion, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi highlighted the transformative power of children’s literature in raising awareness about World Book Capitals, alongside Anna Routsi, World Book Capital Network Expert; and covered the inspiration behind such literary endeavours, as well as her efforts in promoting Arab culture globally.

Intercultural dialogue

With a focus on fostering intercultural dialogue and collaboration, Sharjah will release Greek translations of 10 books by Emirati authors, spanning poetry, prose, arts, and studies. These translations serve as bridges between diverse literary traditions, inviting attendees to explore the intricacies of Emirati culture and literature.

In addition to literary offerings, Sharjah’s programme features engaging panel discussions exploring the influence of Greek philosophy on literature, the significance of women’s narratives, and the evolving landscape of youth literature in the Emirates and Greece. From sessions celebrating poetry and translation to workshops nurturing creative skills in children, Sharjah’s cultural showcase at TIBF 2024 promises an enriching experience for attendees, fostering connections and dialogue that transcend geographical boundaries.