The vision and directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, has greatly contributed to promoting culture, knowledge and love of the written word, not only in Sharjah and the UAE, but also in the Arab region and many parts of the world, said Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA)).
Al Ameri who is also the Director of Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), said: "His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah believes that any nation's journey towards renaissance and development can only be achieved through knowledge, which begins with nurturing one’s mind with culture and knowledge with the main source being literature. He also believes that no nation would be able to move forward and achieve a better future without culture and science."
"The Sharjah Book Fair is an intellectual brainchild of the Ruler of Sharjah who sought through it to instill a love of reading among the people of Sharjah and the UAE, as well as to convey Sharjah's Arab-Islamic cultural message from Sharjah to the world," Al Ameri told a group of Emirati journalists during a meeting held on the sidelines of the Frankfurt International Book Fair.
The SBA Chairman pointed out that the first edition of Sharjah International Book Fair was launched in 1982 and did not receive a public turnout, prompted Sheikh Sultan to buy books from the participating publishing houses in support of literature as well as of a cultural project that he predicted its future would be great, not locally and regionally, but also internationally.
Today, after 34 years of its establishment, the Sharjah International Book Fair has grown to become one of the three most important and fourth biggest book fair in the world.
Al Ameri said: " It is a record breaking year for the 34th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) with 1,502 publishing houses from 64 countries, including Poland, Peru and Ghana, Albania, Argentina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Magnolia, and Serbia, which will take part in SIBF for the first time. Last year, the book fair saw the participation of 1256 publishers from 55 countries. SIBF is also breaking the record for the number of books displayed with 1.5 million titles that are available in 210 languages. This year's exhibition space is 16,000 square metres, compared to 13500 square metres last year. These futures were not borne out of a vacuum but came as a result of the vision and efforts of an intellectual leader and ruler who advocated literature, culture and science."
Al Ameri added: "When I speak the language of numbers about the Sharjah Book Fair, this does not mean numbers mathematically as what I mean we are on the right path laid by His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. We, at the Sharjah book fair, not a mere place for the sale of books and intellectual rights, but an exhibition and cultural and literary festival that offers an inspirational platform for industry professionals, academics, artists, and the public, as well as all family members."
He went on to say that "All events and programmes, organised during the 11-day book fair, as well as guests hosted by the fair, are part of our strategy that aims to foster a love of reading and make it a lifelong habit among members of the Emirati society. We seek through these diverse events and activities to make Sharjah and the UAE a bridge of communication between cultures and inter-religious dialogues."
Al Ameri said the growing number of visitors and participants reflects the positive impact of the fair on professionals in the book industry worldwide, and on the Emirati society. He indicated that the Sharjah Book Fair has been receiving visitors from the GCC and other Arab countries who came specifically to visit the fair and take part in this international literary extravaganza.
He clarified that the Sharjah Book Authority has adopted of the policy of communication and dialogue with various publishers, intellectuals and writers, not only on the local level, but also on the global level.
"We have strong relations based on Sharjah's internationally acclaimed status as well as on SIBF's reputation and popularity achieved over the past years, and we will continue to pursue this approach.
We seek through our international participations in book fairs and international forums not only to promote SIBF and highlight Sharjah as a capital of culture and publishing in the Middle East, but also to convey Sheikh Sultan's message for promoting the Arab culture and the true Islam, its mercy and tolerance, to the world," Al Ameri said.
Speaking about book censorship, the SIBF Director said:" There is no book censorship at the fair at all. The best way to fight against books that may contain some subversive ideas is not to prevent them. This is simply because when a book is banned, it will become popular and even more demanded by people. Banning a book will make it more popular and help its writer market and circulate it in an indirect manner. We fight the unenlightened thought through moderate enlightenment and moderate ideology; we fight it with powerful and true thought. We believe that literature and knowledge enlighten minds and help eradicate ignorance and backwardness."
He said censorship is applied on intellectual property rights and prices only. "We, at the Sharjah book fair do not allow any piracy or infringement of proprietary rights. Over the last years, we closed some stands after they were found to be violating others' copyrights.
Publishers participating in the fair are obliged to grant discounts between 20-25% on all books and there is price control during the 11-day exhibition. Violating publishers will face penalties that may lead to the closure of offender's stand and also the denial of participation in next editions.
The Sharjah Book fair will include events designated specifically for children despite the allocation of an annual book event for them, which is the Sharjah Children's Reading Festival.
"Children will remain in the center of our interests, and SIBF takes keen interest in allocating special events for children in order to inculcate reading in their lives as a regular habit as per the directives of Sheikh Sultan, who believes that children are the reliable source to depend on for a better future, and hence we should encourage them and lure them to read by providing them with high quality books in terms of good content," Al Ameri said.
He praised the immense efforts of Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group and her outstanding role in developing the quality of Arabic children's books by motivating publishers in the Arabic children's book industry to produce creative books through the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children's Literature that she launched four years ago.
Al Ameri lauded the significant cooperation by various local and federal government bodies to facilitate the mission of the Sharjah Book Fair, as well as the harmony between various competent authorities, which collaborate together to make the fair a success.
The fair provides facilities to various government bodies and organisations participating in the fair, and also offers free space to a number of Emirati associations involved in the book industry, such as the UAE Writers Association and the Emirates Publishers Association.
Al Ameri pointed out that facilities are also provided to all participants, including the cost of participation as stand fee is AED500 per square metre for 11 days which is a small amount when compared to SIBF's status. Logistic facilities are provided by the SIBF Management to all publishers participating.
He said that SBA's main building is now under construction in Mleiha, Sharjah, costing AED160 million, and is expected to completed during 2016. The Sharjah Book City, a subsidiary of SBA, will be a qualitative leap in the publishing industry in the region and the world.