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A fair to embrace ideas, hopes

alaa-alghambdi|By Alaa Alghamdi| Last week saw the opening of the Riyadh Book Fair, just a month after the Janadriyah festival. Considered no ordinary exhibition, there were hundreds of visitors pictured queuing to enter the fair, with sales figures expected to far surpass those of previous years. There are 500 local and international publishers displaying at the fair, with all topics covered – from science and technology, literature, history, languages through to politics and religion – something for everyone.

This year, the fair extended its remit. There was more space for publishers, booths to educate people about foreign countries such as Greece and Japan, discussions on social activities and initiatives – a space where the community of the capital can learn and grow.

The Minister of Culture and Information Adel Al Turaifi opened the event at Riyadh’s International Convention and Exhibition Center with a call to all to grow their reading habits.

This fair represents a bringing together of community, creating a platform where people can openly debate while still taking into account mutual respect. There is no need for classification or ridiculing others, instead, the literature stands as a gateway where people can communicate about that which they are passionate about without fear, helping to establish an effective dialogue and begin to meet the whole community’s needs.

The book fair allows us to embrace ideas, contemplate new hopes for the future, exercise the mind and criticise ignorant thought. Through engaging with literature, we can explore the notion of the Other. The growing popularity of events such as the book fair show a new Saudi Arabia – one which is embracing the country’s new role on the global stage.

The increase in cultural and heritage festivals in Saudi Arabia can only be a good thing, bringing together readers, encouraging growth and lively debate about all aspects of life.

Some critics have argued that the Riyadh book fair is nothing but a glorified market – but this is a very short sighted view indeed. It is through cultural events that the community can grow and change, shaped by participation, by reading, and by the ensuing dialogue, becoming more accepting and open. The Riyadh Book Fair is one of the most popular of its kind in the Arab world. Long may this tradition reign.