As Dubai's literature festival and Abu Dhabi's ideas forum kick off, it's time to celebrate the UAE as a meeting place for the great and the good
The UAE is a global forum for writers, thinkers and artists
Culture connoisseurs will be spoilt for choice this weekend. Tomorrow marks the start of the 10th annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the Middle East’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word. From its humble beginnings as an embryonic festival in 2009, it has become a cornerstone of the UAE’s cultural landscape and become an unmissable stop on the global circuit for authors, philosophers and poets. Last year's event attracted more than 44,000 visitors; this year will see 142 authors speaking over a packed 10-day extravaganza, of whom one-third are Arab writers and 18 are Emirati. Those figures mark a maturing of the literary and cultural scene of the UAE and are a reflection of the festival's original purpose to encourage and inspire budding regional writers.
Also beginning on Friday is the second Abu Dhabi Ideas Weekend, which aims to tackle complex social, scientific and technological challenges across the globe and features current thought leaders and prominent former politicians such as Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron. As delegates over the weekend discuss the polarisation of the modern world, an hour up the road in Dubai thousands will be united by a love of books, among them the great and the good of the literary world, including award-winning Syrian novelist, screenwriter and poet Khaled Khalifa, British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and author Anthony Horowitz. Increasingly, the UAE is becoming a modern-day salon in the great tradition of literary talking shops of old.
The global prestige this brings to the UAE is plain, but it is also important for the UAE and the region. The festival will shine a light on the growing canon of Arabic literature and hopefully add to it, as a packed children's programme will inspire a whole new generation to pick up books and perhaps begin writing themselves. As audiences in both cities explore some of the most important ideas sweeping the globe, the UAE – once renowned as a global hub for spices and silk – will be celebrating its newfound status as a trading post for the exchange of cultural knowledge and understanding.