The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair ran from May 23-29, in the ADNEC Exhibition Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The event offered more than 650 events and attracted 1,130 publishers from more than 80 countries. The events included more than 40 focused on Germany, which returned as the Guest of Honor country.

The theme of this year’s fair was “Inspire. Create. Enrich." and the motto is "Reading is seeing.”

Numerous literary luminaries from around the world participated in the program, including Syrian poet Adonis, Indian feminist critic and literary theorist Gayatri Spivak, British writer Ed Husain, author of The Islamist, and Guido Imbens, the Applied Econometrics Professor and Professor of Economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, who won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Economics. Winners of this year’s Sheik Zayed Book Awards were featured on several panels discussing the impact of the prize on their careers and the rising influence of Arabic-language studies and literature on global culture. (Many sessions from the fair are available to view on YouTube.)

The Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre issued 100 grants through its annual “Spotlight on Rights,” program, which aims to support literary translation into and out of Arabic, as well as conversion of books to various digital formats.

In addition, the International Congress of Arabic Publishing & Creative Industries, was held on May 22. The new event aimed to offer professional guidance to the publishing and creative industries throughout the Arab world and beyond. Keynote speeches were made by Nicholas Carr of the New York Times; Silicon Valley veteran and author of Bet on Yourself Anne Hiatt; and Michael Tamblyn, president and chief executive officer at Rakuten Kobo, who revealed the e-book company planned to support Arabic-language e-books by the end of the year.

Social media in the Middle East breaks down barriers

A panel at the Congress titled, “Is Social Media the New Book Market?” explored the growing importance of social media marketing for books in the Arab region. The event featuted Sami Al-Batati, a Saudi YouTuber who runs the channel, The Shadow of the Book,; Annie Arsane, head of platform strategy for the Middle East at TikTok; and Joelle Yazbeck, partner manager for MENA at Twitter.

“The publishing industry has the reader, the author and the critic. With booktubers, it is just readers and critics: readers consume the content while critics use their tools and standards to critique,” said Al-Batati. Book reviews published by Al-Batati have reached 10 million views on YouTube, allowing a book reviewing community to grow in the Arab world.

Social media platforms are breaking down the barriers between authors and readers and creating a space for discussion and engagement. “People today love talking about the books they read, this has been a reality across time, but the problem is how do you find a person who has read a book that you have read and how do you find someone who has interesting recommendations,” Arsane said.

Yazbeck pointed out that on Twitter, engagement was the key. “[Twitter] provides the ability for the public to engage directly with the authors, breaking the barriers and providing a real engagement for both. When a book is published and conversations are happening around it, the reader or the author have the ability to influence the public who start following the conversation and discussions on that book or subject.”

Reflecting on this year’s fair, HE Dr. Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, which organizes the fair, said, “It was a pleasure to welcome back the international publishing community to the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair for a successful 31st edition. Newly re-invigorated post-Covid, we were proud to present a platform for publishers to meet face-to-face, providing tangible opportunities for collaboration between the Arab region and the globe. We were particularly delighted by the response to the inaugural International Congress of Arabic Publishing and Creative Industries, and we look forward to seeing how the industry responds to calls for increasing digital engagement, particularly in light of the grants that the Arabic Language Centre has introduced.”