Sharjah International Book Fair: 'We have allowed freedom of expression to grow and flourish'

The 38th Sharjah International Book Fair opens, with more than 2,000 publishers descending on the emirate from around the world

In his opening remarks on the first day of the 38th Sharjah International Book Fair, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, spoke of the importance of freedom of expression. “It is like a plant,” he said. “If placed in a small pot, it’ll wither and eventually die. We have given that plant plenty of space and allowed it to grow and flourish into the future.”

You only have to wander around the book fair, which runs at Expo Centre Sharjah until Saturday, November 9 and is particularly special this year with Sharjah currently holding the title of Unesco World Book Capital, to see the impact of Sheikh Dr Sultan's commitment to this particular strand of horticulture. Colourful expression blooms everywhere.

Two thousand publishers from around the world are here, offering literature from far flung lands: Ecuador to Estonia and Somalia to South Korea. There is a popular Comic Book Corner, as well as a Cookery Corner, where nearly 50 live demonstrations will take place.

"For us, being on a vibrant and inclusive cultural path was the surest guarantee of creating stable, learned and advanced communities, of building a sustainable economy on the foundation of knowledge, science and innovation," said Sheikh Dr Sultan. "Such lofty aspirations can never be fulfilled without the power of books and learning."

There could hardly be a more vibrant area than the one commandeered by the Mexicans, who have brought the party – as the official Guest of Honour should do. A stunning display of traditional Mexican dresses demand attention, while a joyous photography exhibition by Salvador Ortega brings the bright lights and sites of his home country to the Middle East.

The impressive Cultural Programme, featuring more than 150 authors, only really gets going when Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk addresses the cavernous Ball Room on the first evening. It is a shame that Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan was forced to pull out of the book fair due to illness but there are plenty of other big draw names, including US comedian Steve Harvey, Indian novelists Vikram Seth and Jeet Thayil and British adventurer Jordan Wylie.

The younger generation were not prepared to hang about, though. Thousands of children gorged on the first day’s offerings, tearing from a palaeontology workshop – tools and fossils included – to informal sessions on photography, comic books and the “Magic of Writing”.

Sheikh Dr Sultan handed out a number of awards on the opening day, including the prestigious Turjuman Award for translation. It is worth more than one million dirhams and was won by Italian publishers Edizioni E/O' for A Small Death, a novel by Saudi author Mohammed Hasan Alwan, translated into Italian.

Abdullah Al Nuaimi was awarded Best Emirati Book (Novel) for Zubaida's Apartment, while A story on S&L, written by Anas Abu Rahma and illustrated by Lubna Taha, won Children's Book of the Year at the 11th Etisalat Award for Arabic Children's Literature.

Lebanese author and critic Dr Yumna Al Eid was named Cultural Personality of the Year for her role in promoting the Arab literary scene. “I perceive this occasion as an honouring of women’s achievements,” Al Eid said. “In particular, those who have done so much to nurture Arab culture. Women writers liberate the collective consciousness from the practices and conceptions defined by a patriarchal culture. The fact that more women in our region are picking up a pen to write award-winning titles is a matter of pride”.

The Sharjah International Book Fair runs until Saturday, November 9. More information is available at