International Book Fair Sharjah
Binding Incentives to Encourage People to Read

Internationale Buchmesse Sharjah 2016 GR
© Goethe Institut Gulf Region

During the course of the International Book Fair in the Sharjah Emirate, which took place from November 2 - 12, the United Arab Emirates issued a law which regulates how the government creates incentives to read.

As a result, for example, all publishing efforts will be exempt from taxes and duties. Moreover, government agencies are obligated to establish public libraries and other similar institutions throughout the country to encourage and promote reading. The private sector also will be given incentives for investing in bookshops and cultural centers. The most striking aspect, however, refers to a passage in the new legislative text, which requires that government agencies allow officials to devote themselves to reading relevant specialized literature during working hours.

This clear commitment to creating incentives to read was also evident at this year 's International Book Fair in the Emirate of Sharjah, not only by inviting numerous exhibitors from Arabic countries and around the world, but also through their related programs at the Fair, which, in addition to evening poetry readings, book signings, presentations of new publications and panel discussions on current topics, there were workshops for children and a cooking corner. Furthermore, numerous prizes were awarded for outstanding achievements in the Emirate and Arabic literature scene. The Emirate author Basema Younes was awarded „Best Emirate Book" for her novel, ḥattā 'āḫiri š-šahri (cf: "Until the end of the month"). The Egyptian Ahmed Khaled Tawfik was awarded "Best Arabic Book" for his novel mitl īkārūs (cf. "Like Icarus"). The "Best Emirate Publisher" award went to the publishing company Medad in Dubai and the "Best Arabic Publishing Company" award went to the Syrian publisher Mamdouh Adwan.

Not only was the Fair planned perfectly, the event organizers clearly wanted visitors to enjoy a completely stress-free exhibition experience, whether by granting free entry to all, or through a precise schedule of events that included a detailed map and information on exhibitors and their major areas of focus. The success of the concept is proven by the number of visitors, which was higher than most comparable book fairs in the Gulf region, especially with regard to the number of younger visitors.

For the sixth year in a row, the organizers also offered exhibitors a professional program for people working in the book industry. One goal, in particular, was to create favorable conditions for future partnership projects, both on a regional and international level. Sherif Bakr, Head of the Egyptian publishing house Dar Al Arabi, describes the program as one of the most successful in the Arabic-speaking world, one that can achieve concrete and reasonable results, such as book projects and cooperation partnerships. The program is targeted to more than 200 publishers from different countries, which, according to Sherif Bakr, are given the opportunity to come together in a pleasant atmosphere and plan joint projects or continue projects already in progress.

E-Publishing also made a good show at the Fair, not only through a wide variety of panel discussions, but also due to a keynote speech by Alexander Bergman, who represents Google Play Books. He not only discussed the basic principles of e-publishing, but also gave publishers and other interested parties some numbers in terms of Smartphone users and users of online payment services in the Arab countries. He closed his talk with a discussion of future perspectives for e-books in the region. The company Rakuten Kobo made a further contribution to the subject of e-publishing with a thesis paper entitled, "How we can create a future-oriented market for e-books". The paper focused on specific challenges that are particular to Arab countries, for example, in terms of language, legal regulations, or censorship. Although many publishers in the Arabic-speaking world are interested in the subject, few were willing to commit themselves to e-publishing because they believe that e-books are still less popular in some Arab countries.

Apart from the Fair’s program events, which included the awarding of an annual scholarship for a translator, they announced the new "Turjuman" translator's prize, which offers an unprecedented sum of two million dirhams (around € 250,000). The Goethe-Institut also hosted an event which focused on specific standards for translation. The translator Heba Shalaby discussed what makes a good translation and the pros and cons of literal and free translation. Accordingly, the translator must navigate between a literal translation which doesn’t speak to the target reader and a free translation that does not correspond to the author’s intention. She also focused on the challenges translators face when translating a "Western" text for Arabic readers, which requires also a cultural translation. Other topics included self-censorship as well as the multitude of languages and dialects in the Arabic-speaking world. Heba Shalaby emphasized that proofreading and editing by a professional editor play a crucial role in translating. Contrary to popular belief, translation means teamwork. Following her remarks, Heba Shalaby offered an insight into the translator’s daily work in front of the audience by performing a live translation into Arabic of her current project, "Im Labyrinth der Lűgen” by Ute Krause, a novel for children and young adults sponsored by the translation program. This event allowed the audience to closely follow the translation process, participate actively in the translator's decisions, and experience firsthand the profound difficulties that can arise during such a process.

For the most part, the Fair left a mostly positive impression, and the Emirate States clearly demonstrated a growing interest in literature and culture. Of course there is always room for improvement, especially in terms of the program of events which could include more controversial and less superficial topics. In general, censorship and self-censorship needs to be gradually reduced so that artists can work in a more supportive environment and be more open to their own ideas, before they open themselves to other cultures. Nonetheless, impeccable organization combined with practical and material support from the government has made the International Book Fair in Sharjah the leading book fair in the region, not least because it gives the book market in the region a major boost.

Amira Elmasry

German translation: Andreas Bünger

English translation: Zaia Alexander