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Despite the challenges facing Arab publishing, Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, founder and CEO of Kalimat Publishing in Sharjah, UAE, and vice-president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), was optimistic in her speech at the IPA’s Jordan conference.

“The publisher, and the Arab writer and reader, have golden opportunities to develop the publishing sector and the book industry, and promote reading as it is open to publishers, writers and readers around the world,” she said, almost as a way of countering some of the negative remarks made about (a) Arabic publishing by Palestine’s Mourid Barghouti, and (b) Arabic people by Lebanon’s Joumana Haddad.

While admitting that there were the familiar challenges of distribution and freedom of publication, she reminded delegates that it was an Arab city – her own city of Sharjah – that was chosen as UNESCO World Book Capital which was a tribute to the strides made by the publishing industry in the United Arab Emirates.

She added: “We must also keep in mind that in the past few years, some Arab publishing houses have won international awards in international book fairs, a positive sign that must be noted.  Some Arab publishing houses have reached the international level, and these awards are only the beginning.”

She believes the Arab publishing industry stands at the crossroads between the past and the future, and that it must not go back.  She looks forward with optimism to the changes that are on their way.

“The artificial intelligence revolution is transforming the way we learn, read and disseminate knowledge in a completely radical way. We cannot predict the way we will read and learn in the near future, but we should anticipate what is to come and prepare for it, accordingly.

“There is a new generation that sees the digital devices as an integral part of their personalities and we cannot impose anything on them. On the contrary, they impose change and development on us.”

She said she was very happy to see so many young delegates at the conference because their ideas are the close to the new emerging reality.  “They are aware of the needs of the new reader and know how important it is to develop the appropriate content and channels.  So, we must support them with financial resources, experience and encouragement in order to help them succeed, flourish, and take the publishing industry safely into the future.”