Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2010: Abu Dhabi Marked the 20th Anniversary of Its International Book Fair with the Biggest and Best Exhibition Yet. Pat Lancaster Reports from the UAE
Established in 1981 by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the now annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) goes from strength to strength, having developed from a small event dealing mainly with publishers from Egypt and Lebanon to a fully fledged international spectacular and the major gateway to Middle East and North African publishing markets.
Most participants agree that the real advent of development and change took place in 2007, when KITAB, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) and the Frankfurt Book Fair took over organisation of the event with the aim of promoting it as a vehicle for developing the publishing industry in the Arab world.
The blossoming of ADIBF has since become an important date on the calendar of book trade professionals across the globe. A further step in the right direction was taken with the appointment of Monika Krauss to the position of General Manager of KITAB, "When I got here last year I found good foundations and a good team in place. The next step is to have it grow," she told The Middle East.
Publishing in the region is not without its problems, as Krauss pointed out. "Our aim is to professionalise publishing in the Arab world. There are a number of issues we are trying to address. For example, there is a need for a structured distribution system, there are not enough bookshops, the ISBN numbers are not properly in use yet, and there are censorship issues. But we help get people on track. The public need and want access to more books. There is a belief that Arabs don't read but look out there," she said with a nod of her head towards a crowd of people jostling each other in the aisles to look at the hundreds of publications on show, "I think that proves that they do," she observed with a smile.
The Abu Dhabi Fair is growing in popularity and reputation year on year: the 20th session packed a multitude of activities, lectures and discussions into six days, attracting more than 236,000 publishing professionals and members of the public, achieving a highly successful balance of activities that included discussions, exhibitions, a special children's day, even cooking displays.
Some 840 exhibitors from around the world participated in ADIBF this year, a 32% increase on the number attending in 2009, making it the largest fair in the Middle East region and among the major international events, having overtaken the numbers attracted to similar events in Tehran, Moscow and Seoul.
The importance of ADIBF is highlighted by its choice as the venue to announce the annual Sheikh Zayed awards for literature, where each winner receives a gold medal, a certificate of merit and a cash prize: a total of Dh7 million ($1.9 million) is distributed among authors from various fields. As in such competitions around the world, the Sheikh Zayed awards never fail to provoke argument and discussion although this year's judges, for the most part, gained the widespread approval of the public for their winning selection.
A particular popular choice was that of Qais Sedki, who won the prize for children's literature with his book Siwar al-dhahab (Gold Ring). The book is the first Japanese style Manga work to appear in Arabic; the author's first ever published volume, and the only book by an Emirati to win a Sheikh Zayed award.
Sedki, who received an MBA from the American University of Sharjah where he specialised in IT, told The Middle East he was surprised but delighted to have won the prize.
The title of the book comes from a fictional sport loosely based on the sport of falconry. Sedki made a conscious decision to publish it first in Arabic even though there was a good chance that by launching it English, he would have boosted both sales and international popularity. "I felt it was important to publish first in Arabic. Most of our entertainment originates abroad and even with the best of intentions, it may not be appropriate to our customs, our identity or our religion. …