Ruler of Sharjah visits the Liber International Book Fair in Madrid

The emirate is the guest of honour at one of the Latin reading world's key literary events

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Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, visited the Liber International Book Fair in Madrid Spain on Tuesday, October 8.

He led a delegation from the UAE's literary scene, including authors, poets and publishers, as he toured the venue and officially opened the Sharjah pavilion.

With the emirate designated as this year’s guest of honour at the event, the Sharjah Book Authority set up a grand wing in the heart of the book fair’s grounds that houses nearly a dozen literary UAE organisations.

In addition to the Dr. Sultan Al-Qasimi Centre for Gulf Studies and Emirates Publishing Association, the Sharjah pavilion is also home to publishing house Kalimat and Sharjah Publishing City – the latter is the Arab world’s first free zone for the publishing and printing industry.

In addition to highlighting Sharjah’s standing in the international literary world, the pavilion garnered a big crowd as it showcased various features of Emirati culture.

Sheikh Dr Sultan observed Sharjah’s Department of Culture’s in house folk troupe perform a suite of Emirati traditional dances, before stopping at certain sections of the pavilion to meet with Emirati publishers and authors.

Guest of honour status is a boon for UAE publishers

One person on hand to meet the Sharjah Ruler was Majd Al Shehhi from 1001 Books, an organisation with the aim of boosting Emirati publications at home and abroad.

She explains that Sharjah’s distinction as this year’s guest of honour yields tangible effects for local publishers.

“We are always busy at these festivals as we meet organisations from around the world who are interested in works by Emirati authors,” she says. “By being the guest of honour it does give us that added profile. For example, not long ago we were in Brazil as Sharjah was also the guest of honour at the Sao Paolo Book Fair. As a result we had agreements to have over 10 books by Emirati authors published in Portuguese.”

Everyone plays their part at the Sharjah pavilion

As well as the networking, which includes ‘matchmaking’ sessions between Emirati and Spanish publishers, the pavilion is set to welcome large crowds through its colourful personalities.

One person you can’t miss is Um Azzan. Stationed just inside the entryway, the elderly Sharjah resident commands a small and lively booth home to near a dozen types of her homemade fragrances and Emirati wedding jewellery.

“I am blessed in that I travel all over the world to do this,” she says, as she smears some perfume on my palm. “I went to many book fairs, such as Paris and Lisbon, and I can tell you that people are interested in Emirati culture. I always explain to them that it is grounded in hospitality. When people visit the pavilion, I look at it as if they are visiting my house. I give them great fragrances to try and basically be there if they need anything or have any questions.”

Not that many of the visitors knew, but last night they were also served coffee by an Emirati television star. Habib Ghuloom, who starred in the popular 2016 Ramadan drama Khiyanat Watan Min Riwayat Ritaj (The Betrayal of a Country) took it upon himself to stand alongside Um Azzan as he served Emirati coffee.

"Happy to help in anyway," he says. "This is really an honour to be here, so drink up."

Ghuloom will also meet students at the Universidad Complutense to discuss how Arabs and Spanish characters have been portrayed in Arabic and Latin literature.

More than entertainment

Observing all the action with his coffee is Abu Mohammed, the leader of the dance troupe who welcomed the Sheikh Dr Sultan as he entered the pavilion.

“Today we chose to do two dances, one is called Al Nubi, while the other is Al Haban,” he says.

“The first comes from the wider region, particularly the Nubian people from Sudan. It is a beautiful and rhythmic dance that people enjoy. The second is called after the Al Haban (a kind of bagpipe indigenous to the gulf.) The dance is basically dictated by the music. The musician is in charge and we respond.”

An Emirati dance troupe performs at the Liber International Book Fair in Madrid, Spain. October 9, 2019. Courtesy: Sharjah Media Office
An Emirati dance troupe performs at the Liber International Book Fair in Madrid, Spain. October 9, 2019. Courtesy: Sharjah Media Office

Abu Mohammed states the group have been busy on the road all year, with stops at in New Delhi, Beijing and most recently the Moscow International Book Fair.

“We go where the department of culture tell us we are needed,” he says. “We had amazing experiences and I never knew that I would travel the world and show people my culture. Everyone in the group enjoys what we do because we take it seriously. It is not entertainment. We are representing our country.”

The Liber International Book Fair runs from Wednesday, October 9 to Friday, October 11, in Madrid, Spain. Follow The National’s coverage of the UAE’s participation at the Liber International Book Fair on Arts and Culture. More information on the book fair is available on