SHARJAH: Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates is officially the World Book Capital of 2019, the first city in the Gulf region to be bestowed the title by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
The third largest city in the Emirates was so crowned by the United Nations’ cultural body on Tuesday night (April 23) in recognition of its outstanding role in supporting the publishing industry and nurturing a wide culture of reading locally and internationally.
Before Sharjah, Athens in Greece held the title for a year in 2018, with Kuala Lumpur slated to hold the World Book Capital title next year, in the 20th year of the award.
Sharjah Ruler Sheikh Dr Sultan Muhammad Al Qasimi said the title would encourage future generations to carry on Sharjah’s task of empowering lives with books and knowledge.
"This title will encourage us to continue supporting initiatives aimed at spreading knowledge and building civilisations, thus making Sharjah the cradle of the Arab and Islamic cultural and intellectual renaissance.
"The production of knowledge never stops, and the development of life continues.
"Sharjah is prepared to continue on this journey, and God willing, our devoted sons and daughters will continue our march to make Sharjah a true beacon of science and knowledge and a destination for everyone thirsty for culture, for thought and the sciences," he said at the launch of the Sharjah World Book Capital 2019 at the Al Majaz Amphitheatre here on Tuesday night (April 23).
He received the World Book Capital 2019 title from Unesco assistant director-general Ernesto Ottone R, Greece Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Markos Bolaris and Athens World Book Capital 2018 communication and public relations advisor Fiona Andrikopoulou.
Ottone R said Sharjah was selected for its commitment in promoting intercultural dialogue via books, and its efforts to reach out to marginalised populations by promoting books as a driver of social inclusion, creativity and mutual respect.
“I know that this spirit of inclusion and dialogue will guide all of Sharjah’s activities as World Book Capital.
"We look forward to working with you all, our publishing industry partners, and the entire international community to celebrate books and the values of creativity, understanding, dialogue and tolerance that they symbolise," he said in his speech.
The opening ceremony then kicked off with the world premiere of the "1001 Nights: The Last Chapter", a grand theatre production put together by a team of 537 theatre artists from over 25 countries and featuring a 51-piece orchestra, running until Saturday (April 27).
Touted as the largest cultural production of its kind in the region, the live show was inspired by the region's world-famous collection of folk tales and is produced especially to mark the start of celebrations of Sharjah being picked by Unesco.
Sharjah's year as the Unesco's World Book Capital 2019 runs from April 23 until April 22 next year under the theme "Open Books, Open Minds", and it will be holding a colourful line-up of year-long programmes to celebrate this.
Sharjah will host book-themed activities such as libraries on the beach, book fairs and exhibitions, festivals of desert theatre, storytelling, poetry and Islamic arts, as well as a year-round programme on children's literature.
Forty years ago in 1979, Sheikh Dr Sultan had a vision to make Sharjah the nation's cultural and knowledge capital. While its neighbouring city Dubai saw buildings and mega attractions rising from the ground at a breakneck speed, Sheikh Dr Sultan called upon the people of Sharjah to build upon knowledge and culture.
It has since seen Sharjah becoming the annual organiser of one of the three largest book fairs in the world, the Sharjah International Book Fair.
The book fair is now reaching its 38th edition.
The city's investment in publishing also saw the creation of Sharjah Publishing City in 2017, a free zone exclusively for the publishing and printing industries.