Emirati author and poet Maisoon Saqer has been named winner of a Sheikh Zayed Book Award in the Literature category for Maq’ha Riche, Ain Ala Massr (Eye on Egypt: Cafe Riche).
The novel revolves around the famous Cafe Riche, a landmark in Downtown Cairo that was frequented by the likes of Naguib Mahfouz and witnessed several important historical events. The cafe was where King Farouk met his second wife, Nariman Sadek, and where members of the 1919 Egyptian Revolution against British occupation met to organise their resistance. The venue was also patronised by Gamal Abdel Nasser while he was planning to overthrow King Farouk.
In Maq’ha Riche, Ain Ala Massr, Saqer blends fictional elements to highlight the cafe’s historical significance. The work documents an important era in Egypt’s cultural history by examining the cultural and social transformations and highlighting prominent intellectuals and creators associated with the cafe.
The Sheikh Zayed Book Award, named after the UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, honours writers, innovators and thinkers in literature, the arts and humanities in Arabic and other languages from across the Arab world. Organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, part of the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi, it aims to advance Arabic literature and culture and provide new opportunities for Arabic-language writers.
With a Dh7 million ($1.9m) prize purse, it is also one of the richest literary awards in the world.
Authors writing about Arab culture and civilisation in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian are also recognised by the award, which was launched in 2007.
The 2022 award is the largest to date in terms of submissions and the number of participating countries, organisers said. More than 3,000 submissions were sent in from 55 countries, including 20 Arab nations and 35 foreign countries, an increase of about 28 per cent from 2021.
Winners in other categories
The 16th Sheikh Zayed Book Award organisers also announced winners across seven other categories. These include several literary figures, intellectuals and translations, along with Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Syrian writer Maria Daadoush won in the Children’s Literature category for her story Loghz al Kora al Zujajiya (The Mystery of the Glass Ball). The work tells the story of a boy aged 12 who embarks on a series of exciting adventures while accompanying his grandfather on a train ride in the desert. It explores children’s obsession with video games, while also addressing the effects of pollution.
Mohamed Al-Maztouri from Tunisia won in the Young Author category with his book Al Badawa fi al She’er al Arabi al Qadeem (Bedouinism in Ancient Arabic Poetry). It is an academic work that presents Bedouinism as one of the pillars of ancient Arabic poetry, spanning from the pre-Islamic period until fourth-century Hegira.
Ahmed Aladawi from Egypt was declared winner of the Translation category. Aladawi translated from English The Rise of Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West by George Makdisi.
The work, Nash’at al Insaniyat Einda al Muslimeen wa fi al Gharb al Maseehi, is a comparative exploration of the origins of humanism in classical Islamic civilisation, its literature, its culture and the circumstances surrounding its emergence in the Western Christian world.
Moroccan author Mohamed Aldahi’s Al Sarid wa Taw’am al Rooh: Min al Tamtheel ila al Istinaa (The Narrator and the Soulmate: From Acting to Faking) won in the Art and Literary Criticism category. The book classifies the forms of self-narratives within the general literary discourse, which includes diaries, letters, confessions, journals, self-imagination and self-narration.
In The Arab Culture in Other Languages category, American-Iraqi author Muhsin J Al-Musawi won for his book The Arabian Nights in Contemporary World Cultures: Global Commodification, Translation, and the Culture Industry. The academic work discusses the profound influences the tales of One Thousand and One Nights have had on modern-day global cultures.
Finally, the award for the Publishing and Technology category went to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. The Great Library of Alexandria is a cultural legacy of the past and a revival of the Library of Old Alexandria. It was inaugurated in 2002 and contained millions of books in multiple languages, as well as a sprawling digital archive.
The awards committee announced it decided to withhold the award for the Development of Nations category for this year, as the submissions did not meet the award’s standards and criteria.
The recipient of the Cultural Personality of the Year accolade will be announced in the coming weeks.
Advancing the 'cultural ecosystem in the Arab world'
Winners of the 16th Sheikh Zayed Book Award’s will be honoured in an awards ceremony at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in May. The Cultural Personality of the Year winner will be presented with a gold medal and a certificate of merit, as well as an Dh1 million prize. Winners of other categories will each receive a gold medal, a certificate of merit and a prize of Dh750,000.
The award’s organiser, the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, a part of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), said more than 3,000 applications were submitted to the award from more than 55 countries, including 20 Arab nations.
“With each edition, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award further advances the cultural ecosystem in the Arab world, highlighting brilliant works of intellectual, linguistic and creative diversity,” said Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the ALC and Secretary-General of the SZBA.
“One of our main aims is to support creators, and it is our hope that this platform will serve to introduce these authors to wider audiences, not only in the region, but also around the globe.”
Full list of winners of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award 2022:
Maq’ha Riche, Ain Ala Massr (Eye on Egypt: Cafe Riche) by Maisoon Saqer. Published by Nahdet Misr Publishing
Loghz al Kora al Zujajiya (The Mystery of the Glass Ball) by Maria Daadoush. Published by Dar Al-Saqi
Al Badawa fi al She’er al Arabi al Qadeem (Bedouinism in Ancient Arabic Poetry) by Mohamed Al-Maztouri. Issued by the Faculty of Literature, Arts and Humanities at Manouba University and the GLD Foundation
Nash’at al Insaniyat Einda al Muslimeen wa fi al Gharb al Maseehi (The Rise of Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West) by Ahmed Aladawi. Published by Madarat for Research and Publishing.
Art and Literary Criticism
Al Sarid wa Taw’am al Rooh: Min al Tamtheel ila al Istinaa (The Narrator and the Soulmate: From Acting to Faking) by Mohamed Aldahi. Issued by Le Centre Culturel du Livre.
Arab Culture in Other Languages
The Arabian Nights in Contemporary World Cultures: Global Commodification, Translation, and the Culture Industry by Muhsin J. Al-Musawi. Cambridge University Press.
Publishing and Technology