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Initiative led by Bodour Al Qasimi, Vice President of the International Publishers Association (IPA) and Head of the Advisory Committee to Sharjah UNESCO World Book Capital (SWBC)

Sharjah, the UAE’s cultural emirate whose government places books and literacy at the heart of government policy, has announced help for three libraries badly damaged in the explosions in Beirut on 4 August.

Under the leadership of Bodour Al Qasimi,  the Sharjah World Book Capital Office (SWBCO) will lead the efforts, focusing on three libraries affiliated with Assabil, the non-governmental organisation founded in 1997 to promote public libraries in Lebanon that are free and open to all.

The SWBCO will fund extensive renovation of the Monnot library, which suffered major damage, with the work including improvement of the library’s internal and external environment.  The body will also supply new equipment to upgrade the Bachoura and Geitawi libraries.

Message of Solidarity

Bodour said she wanted to send a message of solidarity to the Lebanese community, and that  supporting the city’s libraries demonstrated both the importance Sharjah places on books and the sympathy millions of Arabs feel for the ordeal the people of Lebanon are experiencing.

She also called on cultural and humanitarian organisations in the Arab region and the world to help revive the vibrant cultural scene for which the Lebanese capital is famous.  She is asking them to  allocate funds to restore libraries, art galleries and cultural organisations damaged or forced to close after the devastating blasts in August.

Commenting on the initiative, Bodour said: “Restoring libraries and cultural centres are as important as supplying humanitarian aid. As we stand by people who lost their homes and businesses, we should not forget how vital the cultural role played by Beirut’s libraries, art galleries and institutions, has been — not only for Lebanon but the entire Arab region and the world. Their revival will ensure the preservation and continuity of Lebanon’s rich cultural legacy, and hopefully help the Lebanese people recover faster by bringing a sense of normalcy to the city.”

Sharjah – emirate of the book

Sharjah’s own efforts to foster a love of reading and a respect for books are well-known in the Arab World and beyond.  It is the reason the city became the first Gulf city to be nominated UNESCO World Book Capital 2019.

Hopes for Beirut

Bodour added: “We hope more local, regional and international efforts and initiatives would follow to help the revival of Beirut’s cultural scene. We call on fellow institutions to prioritise aiding libraries and cultural centres as part of their humanitarian efforts.”

Thanking Bodour for her cultural initiative, Ziad Abou Alwan, President of Assabil, said: “Her passion for supporting reading and libraries is well-known. Through her many initiatives, Sheikha Bodour has brought about a qualitative and sustainable transformation in the Arab book industry.”

He added, “Assabil’s goals align with the aspirations of notable figures of the Arab as well as international cultural movement. We aspire to see a day when books and reading is accessible freely to everybody, especially the younger generations on whom falls the responsibility of not only rebuilding Beirut, but also continuing the march towards education and enlightenment. Initiatives such as Sheikha Bodour’s serve to give us the hope and determination to realise our aspirations.”

Cultural philanthropy

In recent years the Sharjah World Book Capital Office (SWBCO) has supported many libraries in Africa, including the restoration of Guinea’s Djibril Tamsir Niane Library – named after one of Africa’s most esteemed scholars – which was partly destroyed by fire in 2012. Its work in Kenya has also seen the funding of the Makadara branch of the McMillan library whose restoration was undertaken by Kenyan NGO Book Bunk.