Sharjah 2011: Opening Day with the Sheikh

On Wednesday, the Sharjah International Book Fair was officially opened at a glitzy, lavish and quite long ceremony, complete with red carpet and VIPs. His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and ruler of Sharjah, arrived in great ceremony to a barrage of photography flashes and buzzing TV cameras.

Hundreds of guests, including our international delegation, sat at tables smothered in food, under the peculiar orange and violet lighting. In fact, the stage seemed more set for a rock gig than a Book Fair. Here’s some before-and-after shots, of the venue before the opening and the ceremony in progress:

The Opening Ceremony

The several welcoming speeches, all thanking the Sultan profusely for his impressive patronage of the arts (with each reference using his full list of titles), told us that Sharjah has recently been designated as the 2014 Islamic Capital of Culture, and has been supporting the Palestinian bid to join UNESCO.

The Saudi Arabian Minister for Education called for more book fairs in the Arab world, telling us that books are “incubators of knowledge” and that book fairs are essential to “instill Islamic principles in the minds of the younger generation so as not to fragment them in this time of globalisation.”

That quote above is subject to the interpretation of a translator: all speeches were in Arabic, and we relied on the English conveyed to us via fetching headsets.

The Sultan’s own speech was one the translator struggled with, and we were left a tad bemused after he had spoken – it seemed to make plenty of sense to the Arabic speakers in the audience though.

A chat to my neighbour at the event, John of Gulf-based Motivate Publishing, assured me that this was quite normal – he also kept us right in when were supposed to stand (when the Sultan did), and gave us an insight into the development of media and publishing in the Gulf over the last decade. The majority of good Arabic-English translators were London-based, he told us, but as media outlets became viable in Dubai, more were moving across.

The Book Fair Awards

There were a number of awards made by the Sheikh, including Cultural Personality of the Year, but the top award was the Arabic Children’s Literature Award, a million Dirham prize (approx. £200,000.) The Award, won by an Egyptian publisher, has been championed by Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, and I look forward to meeting her later in the Fair to find out more about the prize.

The awards were complete with stirring daytime-tv awards ceremony music and golden book statuettes, and even the event sponsors, a local telcom company, got a statue.

Once these had been given out (our translator couldn’t keep up), we watched VT about the development of the fair, which began in 1982, and had a strange audio-visual piece with pages of a book flying around us. Turned out to be pages from the Sultan’s latest book.

Finally, the Sheikh was given gifts, including a sculpture representing his own literary works, and a glittery camel. Yes, a glittery camel. It was about a foot-high, and may have been jewel-encrusted.

Sara Grady has written up a full post stuffed with pictures about the opening ceremony. She even got a snap of one of the book statues.

Coming Up

A afternoon spent touring Sharjah’s key cultural institutions, supported or connected to the Sheikh. It was a very Sheikh-themed day.

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