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His Highness Dr Sheik Sultan bin Muhammad al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Member of the Supreme Council, received one of the global book industry’s most important awards at the London Book Fair last week. He was given the Simon Master Chairman’s Award, which is given to an individual or company in special recognition of an amazing venture or achievement and is named after the first Executive Chairman of the London Book Fair Advisory Board – and a much-loved book trade figure – who died in 2015.
Making the presentation, the director of the London Book Fair Jacks Thomas said: “For more than 40 years His Highness has been a passionate advocate of books and reading. He has dedicated his life to using books, literacy and education to help a developing nation. In 1979 he advised against ‘the pursuit of profits and wealth while ignoring culture’ and he has worked hard to position Sharjah as ‘the cultural emirate’. In 1981 he founded the Sharjah International Book Fair, whose international programme and generous translation grants have done much to increase the flow of books between east and west.
“Dr Sultan is outward looking and believes in the power of books to heal division. In 1998 UNESCO named Sharjah the ‘Cultural Capital of the Arab World’. With his support, the Emirates Publishers Association and the Emirates Writers Union were both established in Sharjah, and in 2015 Sharjah hosted the Arab Publishers Association Conference for the first time.
“A scholar and historian who is the author of some 30 works of Gulf history and memoirs, he believes in the role of books to boost empathy and understanding – something he recognises is needed more than ever today.”
She concluded: “In his opening address to the Sharjah International Book Fair in 2014, Dr Sultan spoke of the “barbaric acts” taking place “in the name of Islam”. In Sharjah he said they worked hard “to dispel these dark clouds so that the light of truth and virtue may shine through books”. That light burns brightly in Sharjah, nurtured by a Ruler who continues to put books centre stage. This lifelong commitment makes Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi a worthy recipient of the London Book Fair Simon Master Chairman’s Award.”
There followed a standing ovation as His Highness received the glass trophy. His Highness then made a short speech to the audience of international publishers and editors in which he praised the role of culture “in human dialogue, understanding and harmony, regardless of race, religion or geography”. He said that this thirst for knowledge and desire to experience new traditions creates “a global bond which has the potential to have a much greater effect than new cities or military power. The true drive of civilization is based on the spirit of its people and the love of their culture.
“In the past, military leaders have written the world’s history through ever-increasing hatred and ever-decreasing humanity, whereas poets and authors write history with the purity of an artist. We are proud to say that Sharjah is a symbol for culture, intellect and heritage in the United Arab Emirates and the Arab Region, known for its leading role as a patron of fine arts and instiller of true cultural values. We are proud of the ability we have to create a cultural identity perfectly balanced between our Islamic roots and historical heritage.
“I extend a wholehearted thank you to the London Book Fair and its Director, Ms Jacks Thomas, for such a generous award. Sharjah will continue in its efforts to strengthen international ties through global cultural collaborations. Thank you again for this honour, and I wish you all a good fair and look forward to welcoming you in Sharjah.”
Earlier in the week, His Highness’ UK publisher Bloomsbury hosted a lavish dinner at Whitehall’s historic Banqueting House to celebrate publication of His Highness’ latest work of history, Tale of a City. The publisher’s Chief Executive Nigel Newton described it as a “well-written insight into the birth of a nation from someone who has done so much for East-West relations”.