The UAE Passes a Law Making Books and Reading a Priority for the Country

Posted on November 7, 2016

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan

The United Arab Emirates is getting serious about reading. The Guardian reports that the UAE has implemented a new law which aims to make reading a daily habit for its citizens. But this is just the beginning of a unique plan to make the UAE a cultural force for knowledge and learning.

UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan announced the new law, explaining that it now allows government staff time to read at work. The reading material must relate to the workplace or personal or professional development. The law also requires coffee shops to offer books and other reading materials to their customers to read while they are sipping their coffee.

The law will expand the reach of public libraries: there will now be branches of libraries in shopping malls. Books will now be exempt from fees and taxes, which is good news for booksellers. Another interesting part of the law provides that every child will be given a reading bag or "knowledge briefcase" which will be provided to parents when they have children. Each child will get another reading bag at the age of one and when he or she turns two years old. The government is spending quite a bit of money on this project: UAE nationals and those from other Arab nations will receive books in Arabic and non-Arab citizens will receive materials written in English.

And to show that it is really serious about the value of books, the government has outlawed the destruction of books. Unwanted books must be "preserved, reused or donated." Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the vice-president of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, says that the government wants a major, sustained cultural change over future generations. There will be reading contests for children, and major subsidies to the private sector to increase the visibility of books, reading and literacy in the culture of the UAE.

When novelist Paul Coehlo praised this unique literary cultural push, Sheikh Mohammed wrote an open letter to him talking about a time in the past when this region of the world was a center for books, learning and tolerance. He said, "At that time, we were pioneers, leaders, open to all cultures. We became a beacon for humanity, and paved the way for the European Renaissance." He noted that in the 9th century, there were 100 publishing houses on the outskirts of Baghdad when the Arab world was a "beacon in the worlds of astronomy, medicine, mathematics and philosophy."

Sheikh Mohammed wants the UAE to be a center of learning, books and cultural exchange. It's an exciting, bold vision that could pay great dividends in the future, especially if any other countries in the region decide to follow his lead.

Photo: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan