UNESCO World Book Capital
The nomination as UNESCO World Book Capital
2019 is among Sharjah’s highest accolades. The honor
acknowledges the emirate’s long-standing commitment to
books and culture and is undoubtedly a personal triumph
for the emirate’s Ruler, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin
Mohammed Al Qasimi, member of the UAE’s Supreme
Council, who has worked tirelessly to build a book industry in
the country since he took office in 1971.
Sharjah’s aim is to use its tenure as UNESCO World Book
Capital to increase reading across the emirate and to promote
books as fundamental to self-improvement. Its slogan for
the year will be “Read – You are in Sharjah”, and the hope is to
increase book reading across all sectors of society, with plans
that include a particular focus on inclusivity, on acknowledging
and involving Sharjah’s rich, multicultural population.
The organizers are acutely aware that reading and access
to literature increases empathy and understanding of other
people, and thus reduces conflict. Longer term, it is hoped that
the initiatives put in place for World Book Capital will address
the worrying statistics from ALECSO (the Arab League’s
Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation) that
revealed an overall illiteracy rate of 35.6% in the Arab World,
compared with a global rate of 18%.
Sharjah’s year as UNESCO World Book Capital will
begin with an Olympic style opening ceremony at the Al
Majaz Amphitheatre in Khalid Lagoon, after which the
program will cover six themes: Inclusivity, Reading, Heritage,
Outreach, Publishing, and Children. The UAE is home to
more than six million expats who account for approximately
83% of the population. Most are from India ( 42.3%) or
the Philippines (12%), and these two large demographic
groups will be specifically targeted with a range of tailored
promotions and events.
The designation UNESCO World Book Capital will enhance
Sharjah’s status as the cultural emirate and will be used to
market the city as a top destination for cultural tourism. Closer
to home it is hoped its impact will be felt among the young, with
teachers using the title to emphasize the importance of reading
and as a way of demonstrating Sharjah’s status around the
world when it comes to books.
Sharjah’s belief in the role books and education have to play
in boosting empathy and healing division are in accordance
with the aims of UNESCO, as stated in its founding constitution
in 1945 which talks about “promoting collaboration among
the nations through education, science and culture in order to
further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for
the human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
The nomination of Sharjah as UNESCO World Book Capital
follows the city being named UNESCO Cultural Capital of
the Arab World in 1998, and its year as Islamic Cultural Capital
in 2014, an honour bestowed by the Islamic Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Established in 2001, the UNESCO World Book Capital
initiative was first suggested by International Publishers
Association (IPA) President Pere Vicens in 1996. Having
established April 23rd as World Book and Copyright Day in that
year in Madrid, the IPA, inspired by the successful experience
of Madrid, initiated nominating the best city program aimed at
promoting books during the period between one “Book Day”
and the next.
Following the IPA’s idea, and a proposal by the Government
of Spain supported by many other countries, the UNESCO
General Conference decided, on November 2nd, 2001,
that the Organization would grant its moral and intellectual
support to the conception and implementation of the World
Book Capital City initiative. It would invite the international
professional organizations of the book industry to work
together to see it become a reality.
Today, following a public call for entries, the nominating
committee (formed of the IPA, the International Federation of
Library Associations and UNESCO) meets in order to appoint a
World Book Capital City.
The city may hold the title for one designated year, from
April 23rd (UNESCO World Book Day) until April 22nd of the
following year. During that year the World Book Capital city
undertakes to organize and run a large number of events around
books, literature and reading. The program brings together the
local and national book industries and puts books and book
culture in the public eye. It attracts sponsorship and extra funding
for book related institutions. The program also raises awareness
for literacy and reading issues, libraries and bookshops, and
highlights the overall benefits of a lively book culture.
There have been 18 World Book Capitals, as follows: Madrid
(2001); Alexandria (2002); New Delhi (2003); Antwerp (2004);
Montreal (2005); Turin (2006); Bogota (2007); Amsterdam
(2008); Beiruit (2009); Ljubljana (2010); Buenos Aires (2011);
Yerevan (2012); Bangkok (2013); Port Harcourt (2014); Incheon
(2015); Wroclaw (2016); Conakry (2017); and Athens (2018).
Sharjah becomes the first Gulf city to hold the honor – and
people can hardly wait.