x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Arabic literary tradition should be protected

The heritage of Arabic literature needs to be preserved, not only by encouraging a new generation of writers but by protecting their works.

Naguib Mahfouz, the first Arab to win the Nobel Prize for literature, explained that his career as a writer began with simple stories that he wrote as a boy for his family. Years later, as his prolific career and life was drawing to a close, Mahfouz concluded: "If the urge to write should ever leave me, I want that day to be my last." That urge to write and read great literature is not just an individual need; for any society that wishes to make its mark, it must also be a collective aspiration.

While the region's literary culture has declined since the days when libraries at Cordoba and Cairo were two of the most important centres of learning on Earth, efforts to restore that tradition are underway. The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair's success is emblematic of the region's growing role in the world of literature and publishing. The fair's programmes for children are a vital part of creating an enduring literary culture in the UAE and cultivating the habit of reading among the nation's youth.

The region is world-renowned for its tradition of storytelling but this has not been carried over when it comes to the printed word. As society has left behind its bedouin roots, it must record and guard its tales for posterity's sake and encourage the writing of new stories to help explain the region changes and captivate a new generation of readers.

As we reported last week, some Emirati authors, such as Qais Sedki, are already taking this upon themselves, giving traditional stories a modern twist through novels such as The Gold Ring, a manga-style book inspired by traditional folk tales that won a Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

But as Mr Sedki argues, "the availability of content is a big issue". Piracy remains a major obstacle to increasing the new works published in Arabic and encouraging Arabic writers to develop.

No one becomes a writer to become wealthy, but the rampant piracy of creative works in the region limits the ability of writers to support themselves and to dedicate the time and energy that their craft requires. For their part, publishers will be reluctant to make investments in translation and printing presses if piracy prevents them from making a profit.

As Salah Chebaro, the chief executive of the online bookshop neelwafurat.com, said in a panel discussion at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair yesterday: "If we do not put a stop to this, the industry will die."