Thousands of people descended on the cavernous Expo Centre in the heart of Sharjah on Wednesday to celebrate the opening of the annual Sharjah International Book Fair.
With 1.6 million titles, including 80,000 new ones, as well as 1,800 events and 200 book-signing sessions, this year's fair is the biggest in the event's 37-year history.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, and Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority.
"The Sharjah International Book Fair has become an intellectual and cultural extravaganza that draws international interest," Mr Al Ameri said. "It is a celebration of Emirati and Arab cultures and a message from Sharjah and the UAE to the world about the beauty of the language of the mind, intellectual thought, art and how it brings us all together on one stage.
“[This] message is written in different languages by people of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
“It illustrates that knowledge is not a coincidence but a product of constant accumulation of efforts throughout human history and a result of people’s wisdom and far-sightedness.”
Later in the ceremony, Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi honoured Algeria’s Minister of Culture, Azzeldine Mihoubi, with the title Cultural Personality of the Year for his efforts in promoting the arts in the North African country.
“I will never forget this defining moment,” Mr Mihoubi said. “On behalf of all Algerian cultural entities, I would like to express my appreciation for this great honour recognising Algerian culture.”
Addressing Sheikh Sultan, he said: “You have always supported culture, art and creativity across the Arab world. Apart from serving the cultural world and launching an array of regional and international cultural events, you have written many books, which have finally rectified many historical inaccuracies and helped people around the world see our culture and history more accurately.”
Formalities over, it was time for people to sample the myriad delights on offer at the fair.
Many of the opening day's events were aimed at children. Dozens of school groups tore around the halls, enjoying workshops in everything from origami and 3D printing to toy making and story writing.
In one session, a group of children were taught how to make a miniature book with little more than paper and glue. The decibel level quickly dropped as they all became transfixed by the task at hand.
With most of the big-name speakers scheduled to appear in the coming days, this was a good opportunity to browse the seemingly endless book stands. There are 1,874 publishing houses here from 77 countries, including China, India, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
Highlights of the fair include talks by: Omar Saif Ghobash, UAE ambassador to France and author of the best-selling book Letters to a Young Muslim; British explorer and broadcaster Bruce Parry; Lebanese-Canadian poet and social media phenomenon Najwa Zebian (read our interview in today's Arts & Lifestyle section); and Indian composer L Subramaniam.
There is also an extensive cookery programme, featuring 60 demonstrations and workshops by chefs from around the world, including Morocco's Hassan M'Souli and Egypt's Dyna El Deif. The guest of honour is Japan, whose pavilion is host to novelists, as well music and food events.
For the next 10 days, Sharjah will be at the centre of the literary world — considering the opening day, that is exactly where it deserves to be.
The Sharjah International Book Fair runs until November 10. For more info, visit www.sibf.com