New Abu Dhabi festival Arabian Days to celebrate Arabic language with music, film and art

Concerts, screenings and cultural discussions to feature along with star names

epa06928029 Lebanese singer and composer Marwan Khoury sings for fans during a concert at the Damascus Citadel during the Damascus Citadel Festival in Damascus, Syria, 04 August 2018.  EPA-EFE/YOUSSEF BADAWI
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Lebanese singer Marwan Khoury and Egyptian actress Mona Zaki will appear at a new Abu Dhabi festival celebrating the Arabic language.

Running from December 15 to 18 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Arabian Days is a free event aimed at culture lovers of all languages with a daily programme of concerts, film screenings, art exhibitions and literary discussions.

Organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, the festival also coincides with World Arabic Language Day on December 18.

Ali Bin Tamim, chairman of Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, says Arabian Days has been planned as an annual event.

“I am proud to see the launch of what will become an annual opportunity for enthusiasts of the Arabic language and culture to come together and celebrate the past, present and future of this beautiful language,” he explains to The National.

“By supporting established and emerging talent working in the language today, Arabian Days will become a key cultural date in the Abu Dhabi calendar and help younger Arabic speakers and non-Arabic speakers to recognise its extraordinary creative potential and inspire them to create their own art.”

Here is what you need to know about Arabian Days:

The concerts

About 30 eclectic acts will perform during the event on an outdoor stage, with each performer chosen for the literary prowess of their work.

The biggest name on the bill is undoubtedly Khoury, who will close the festival on December 18.

The celebrated Lebanese crooner is known for his evocative balladry and hits composed for the likes of pop-stars Elissa and Carole Samaha.

He will be joined by compatriot Abeer Nehme on December 15. A gifted vocalist and musicologist, Nehme's sets touch upon everything from folk music to Islamic devotional songs and ancient Arabic lullabies.

Preceding her that day is oud player and singer Anwar Abu Dragh, who will play traditional Iraqi folk songs.

Among the Emirati artists set to perform are opera singer and pianist Fatima Al Hashemi, who will play on December 16, and soul singer Aqram the following day.

Palestinian singer Noel Kharman will also make her debut Abu Dhabi gig on December 16.

Since making a big impression with a viral 2016 mash-up of Adele's Hello and Fairouz's Kaifek Inta followed in 2017 by a blend of Luis Fonsi's Despacito and Ahmed Al Maslawi’s Akhiran Galaha, Kharman has turned her sights to original tracks, such as the stately ballad Ann Alawan.

The art exhibitions

The main gallery space in Manarat Al Saadiyat will host an exhibition by Mahmoud Shubbar.

The Iraqi abstract artist will display paintings inspired by the life of historic Arab poet Antarah Ibn Shaddad.

Hailing from the Arab Peninsula, the work of the revered sixth century writer is defined by its rich descriptions of the regional traditions and customs of the time.

Also displayed throughout the festival will be works that have won this year’s Kanz Al Jeel Award. The competition, run by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, recognises visual art works inspired by Arabic literature.

The films

In collaboration with Cinema Akil, Arabian Days will screen a number of Arabic films.

These include the December 16 screening of The Blue Whale, a 2014 drama set in an Egyptian hospital and based on the novel by Ahmed Mourad.

In Fields of Words - Conversations with Samar Yazbek will be shown the following day. The 2022 documentary centres on the free-flowing conversation between Syrian writer Samar Yazbek and Lebanese filmmaker Rania Stephan as they reflect on the role of literature in times of conflict.

Also showing on December 18 is The Last Queen, released in 2022.

Set in the 16th century Algiers under Ottoman rule, the Algerian period drama follows the life of Queen Zaphira as she attempts to cement her authority within a restless royal court.

All of the films will include English subtitles.

The conference

Writers, intellectuals and cultural historians will also gather in Arabian Days for a three-day conference exploring the diversity of the Arabic language through various mediums.

The actress Zaki will be on a panel discussing the evolution of Arabic theatre over the decades.

Ahead of his concert, Khoury will also sit down for a conversation about some of the stories behind his most evocative songs.

Lebanese poet Jawdat Fakhreddine will take part in discussions about the challenges educators face in teaching Arabic today.

As part of their session, Emirati and Jordanian artists Najat Makki and Muntasir Al-Hamdan will delve into the distinctive attributes of Arabic calligraphy.

All conference sessions will have English translations with the full programme available online.

Storytelling time

An outdoor nook of Manarat Al Saadiyat will be converted into an intimate setting to hear fireside stories.

Taking place each evening and running for three hours, these original tales will be written and performed by selected artists and performers.

Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi’s Galleria Mall and Yas Mall, expect the festival to be promoted by a range of actors dressed up as historic literary Arabic figures.

Look out for personalities such as Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, Lebanese-Palestinian poet and essayist May Ziadeh and the Andalusian poet Wallada Bint Al Mustakfi.

More information is available at

Updated: December 15, 2023, 5:35 AM