Sharjah Book Fair
Sharjah International Book Fair Image Credit: Twitter/@sharjah24

Sharjah: Societies cannot flourish without freedom of expression, which must be allowed room to grow, local and international guests of Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) heard on Wednesday.

The call came from His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, during his address at the opening ceremony of SIBF at Expo Centre Sharjah.

He commented on the emirate’s groundbreaking achievement of being named the “World Book Capital 2019” by explaining how there were many specific criteria that had to be met before the title was granted by the UNESCO.

“One of these criteria, discussed freedom of publishing and freedom of expression. There is a false perception that our region lacks these values. In fact, education and culture requires freedom to be able to grow.”

Dr Sheikh Sultan emphasised on the importance of freedom of expression in the growth and prosperity of a nation.

“It is like a plant, if placed in a small pot it’ll wither and eventually die. We have given that plant plenty of space and allowed it to grow and flourish into the future.”

He also assured that despite achieving this prestigious title, Sharjah will continue on their journey of spreading culture and education all around the world and being renowned as an emirate enriched with history and culture.

Also speaking during the ceremony, Ahmad Al Ameri, Chairman of Sharjah Book Authority, which organises SIBF, said national progress - even international relations - is impossible without investing in culture. To this end, he added, SIBF has become one of the world’s biggest book fairs and cultural events, hearing from local and international thought leaders and authors.

Youmna Al Eid, Lebanese writer, and renowned critic and the recipient of the Cultural Personality of the Year award, appreciated the importance of equality among male and female writers in the region. She commended the Sharjah International Book Fair for this event, claiming that while it celebrates writers in general, it has also allowed a platform for women writers to be appreciated and given the means to express themselves through literature. “It is of great pride for me that women today are being given the platform to write and publish. Women’s writings now have a place in every Arabic library, in exhibitions and she is now given a fair shot at achieving awards”, she said.

Dr Sheikh Sultan also honoured winners of various literary and publishing awards, including the Dh1.3 million ‘Tarjuman’ or Translation award, won by Saudi translator Mohammad Hassan Alwan for translating a famous Italian book called Una Piccola Morte.

Meanwhile, the best Emirati creative screenwriter award went to Saleh Karama Al Amri.

This year, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, American TV host and actor Steve Harvey, Indian novelist Vikram Seth, Academy Award winning Bollywood lyricist Gulzar are among the star attractions.

Other big names include Steven James, author of the critically acclaimed Bowers Files and self help author Mark Manson.

The fair is featuring over 2,000 publishers from 81 countries under Sharjah World Book Capital’s (SWBC) theme ‘Open Books Open Minds” to promote books and reading across different age groups and communities.

These include a record 198 Emirati publishers, besides 183 from Egypt, 91 from Lebanon, 64 for Syria and nearly a hundred from India.

Mexico is the Guest of Honour country at the festival. 10 publishers and authors from Mexico are taking part in the book fair, giving visitors a peek into the ancient cultures of the Aztecs and the Mayans.

Also, a staggering 400 fun-filled activities have been lined up for children. These include 88 plays and workshops on movies on superheroes like Black Panther, Spiderman and Captain America.