Established in 1998, the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture rewards, each year, two laureates – individuals, groups or institutions – who, through their work and outstanding achievements, endeavour to disseminate greater knowledge of Arab art and culture.
- 2018 - Samandal Association (Lebanon) and Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
- 2017 - Christine Tohme (Lebanon) and Asociación Civil del Creciente Cine Fértil para la Promoción de la Diversidad Cultural (Argentina)
- 2016 - Bahia Shehab (Egypt) and eL Seed (France)
- 2015 - Elias Sanbar (Lebanon) and Biblioteca Islámica (Spain)
- 2013 - The Arab Image Foundation (Lebanon) and Farouk Mardam-Bey (France)
- 2012 - Mustapha Cherif (Algeria) and the Arab British Centre (United Kingdom)
- 2011 - Elias Khour (Lebanon) and João Baptista de Medeiros Vargens (Brazil)
2018 - Samandal Association (Lebanon) and Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
Samandal Association (Lebanon) is a volunteer-based NGO dedicated to the advancement of the art of comics for audiences of all ages. Founded in 2007, Samandal has published a large variety of books and magazines as well as hosting workshops and exhibitions at home and abroad. The association has won several awards, among them: Best Comics Magazine (FiBDA 2009, Algiers), Best Arab graphic novel for Yogurt and Jam (FiBDA 2013), Best Arab graphic novel for Utopia (FiBDA 2013), and Audience Award for Topia at the East London Comics and Arts Festival (2018). Samandal’s work in promoting the comic strip, often a vehicle for resistance and social expression, is a valuable contribution to Arab culture, its development, protection and dissemination. Samandal’s works have been published in Arabic, English and French.
Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is Europe’s largest festival of contemporary Arab culture. Founded in 2011, the Shubbak festival takes place every two years connecting London and the United Kingdom to the best of contemporary Arab culture through ambitious programmes that span the visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, installations and debates. Working with practitioners and arts institutions in London and abroad, the festival celebrates Arab artists on the international scene. By focusing on personal expressions of artists, the Shubbak festival champions a multiplicity of voices and a diversity of nuanced viewpoints, which stand in contrast to the dominant media’s conflict-focused narrative on the Arab world. It promotes the innovation and creativity of Arab artists to inform and inspire the widest possible audiences in the UK and around the world.
2017 - Christine Tohme (Lebanon) and Asociación Civil del Creciente Cine Fértil para la Promoción de la Diversidad Cultural (Argentina)
Christine Tohme (Lebanon) is a cultural organizer and curator. In 1994, she founded The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan, which supports and facilitates the production and circulation of creative and intellectual endeavours across a range of disciplines and media. Through her commitment to writing, publishing, documentation, and archive development, Tohme supports research, debate, and partnerships, as well as regional and international networking. By connecting artists and intellectuals from her region with the rest of the world, Ms Tohme helps foster an enabling environment for younger generations of artists and thinkers. In 2011, she initiated Home Workspace, a multidisciplinary forum held in Beirut, Lebanon, every two to three years. It has evolved into one of the most vibrant contemporary cultural events in the Arab region and beyond. She is a former curator of Sharjah Biennial 13.
Asociación Civil del Creciente Cine Fértil para la Promoción de la Diversidad Cultural (Argentina) is a nongovernmental organization based in Argentina. The association promotes Arab culture in Latin America through Arab film festivals, cultural audiovisual productions, and regional programmes, which promote cultural diversity. Cine Fértil allows people in the region to learn about the social, cultural and artistic contexts of the Arab world. The NGO has become a reference in the region for its initiatives in creating consistent and lasting cultural relations between Latin America and the Arab region. In 2011, Cine Fértil initiated the first edition of the Latin American Festival of Arab Cinema "LATINARAB", which has promoted an extensive selection of the most outstanding contemporary films produced in Arab countries.
Bahia Shehab (b. 1977) is an Egyptian artist, designer and art historian, whose work has been displayed in exhibitions, galleries and on the streets of cities in many parts of the world. As an engaged and committed calligraffiti artist, Bahia’s project, No, A Thousand Times No, is a series of graffiti images centered on the one thousand ways of writing “no” in Arabic. Her artistic work in graffiti brings to the forefront issues pertaining to political and economic injustices, as well as personal issues and gender-based violations, reflecting her conviction that art is a tool for change that can provoke people to leave their comfort zone and engage in action for justice.
eL Seed, was born in Paris to Tunisian parents in 1981 and learned to read and write Arabic in his late teens. He developed his unique pictorial style in calligraffiti that mixes poetry, calligraphy and graffiti and disseminates messages of peace and beauty perceptible even to those unable to decipher Arabic writing. eL Seed says that the beauty of calligraffiti is like music that can be appreciated independently of intellectual analysis. As an artist of Maghrebin background, he uses his artwork in public spaces to engage viewers in a dialogue that questions stereotypical narratives around Arab and Islamic culture in Europe.
Elias Sanbar (Haifa, 1947) is one of the most distinguished Arab intellectuals today, whose activities encompass literature, law, history, translation, journalism and diplomacy. Over four decades, he has brought a significant contribution to an improved understanding of Arab culture. In 1981, he co-founded one of the most respected publications about Palestine anywhere, La Revue d’études palestiniennes, of which he was the editor-in-chief for 25 years. His translations into French of the work of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish is a major contribution to the dissemination of Arab culture. He also co-authored Le rescapé et l’exilé (The Survivor and the Exiled) with Holocaust survivor Stéphane Hessel, a book that has had considerable international impact. Since 2012, Elias Sanbar has also been Palestine’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO.
The Biblioteca Islámica, the Islamic Library of Spain’s Agency for International Cooperation and Development, has become an essential international reference in the field of Arabic and Andalusian studies due to the wealth of its collections and the services it provides. Based in Madrid since its founding in 1954, the library has a collection of 100,000 volumes. Notable publications to be found among its prized possessions include the Lexicon arabicum by Franciscus Raphelengius (1613), Thesaurus linguarum Orientalium Turcicae-Arabicae-Persicae by Franciszek Mesgnien Meniński, published from 1680 to 1687, and Gramática arábigo-española by Francisco Cañes, published in Madrid in 1775.
The Islamic Library collaborates actively with university departments offering courses of Arabic and Islamic culture. It takes part in international conferences organized by the European Association of Middle East Libraries (MELCOM) and promotes intercultural dialogue by entering into partnerships with scientific and educational associations in the Arab world. The Library also brings its support to other Arab libraries through training and exchanges.
The Arab Image Foundation is a non-profit organization, which collects, preserves and studies photographs from the Arab world and its diaspora. Created in 1997, the Foundation organizes exhibitions, international collaboration projects and exchanges. It also supports artists’ projects and is part of an extensive regional network. In view of the upheavals taking place in the Arab world, the work of the Foundation is essential to the preservation and promotion of the social, political, economic, cultural and artistic history of the region.
Farouk Mardam-Bey has been the leading publisher of translated Arab literature in France. All along his carrier, he has introduced the French and European publics to Arab literature classics, as well as leading contemporary writers who bear witness to the effervescence of Arab culture, such as H. al-Shaykh, H. Barakat, M. Darwich, Abdul-Rahman Mounif, S. Ibrahim, E. Khoury, and H. Selmi. In addition to his own works as an author and thinker, Mardam-Bey has supported intercultural understanding and cooperation in all his endeavours, whether as a translator, cultural consultant, head of prestigious libraries—notably that of the Arab World Institute in Paris—and editor.
Mustapha Cherif (Algeria) is an internationally renowned specialist in Arab-Muslim culture who teaches intercultural and interreligious dialogue. Philosopher, researcher in human and social sciences; he is also an expert in education, communication and comparative studies of religions and civilizations. He has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Toulouse (France) and a PhD in Sociology from the Sorbonne University (France). He is professor at the University of Algiers and Scientific Director of the International Master in Muslim Civilization at the Open University of Catalonia.
The Arab British Centre (United Kingdom) is an independent non-political non-religious charitable organisation, which works to improve the British public’s understanding of the Arab world. It organises and promotes cultural and artistic events relating to the Arab world, and hosts a regular programme of activities including Arabic calligraphy classes and Arabic language classes. It also houses permanent and temporary collections of contemporary art, has a specialised library open to the public, holds talks on a variety of topics, and recognises individuals working in similar fields through our bi-annual Award for Culture.
Elias Khour (Lebanon). He was born in Beirut in 1948. He is a novelist, playwright and academic critic, and is considered one of today’s leading Arab intellectuals. Author of 11 novels translated into more than 13 languages, including Hebrew, his literary works draw on history and deal with basic questions of human existence. In his novels, literary and dialectal Arabic intertwine to deliver a testimony of the pride and injuries of the countries of the Arab world. His most celebrated novels are Gate of the Sun (1998), Yalo (2002) and As Though She Were Sleeping (2007).
João Baptista de Medeiros Vargens (Brazil). He is a publisher, author, translator, lexicologist and professor of Arabic language and civilization. Primarily interested in the influence of Arabic on Portuguese, J. B. de Medeiros has devoted himself to highlighting the presence of the Arab-Muslim civilization in Brazil and in Portuguese-speaking countries at large.
Ali Mahdi Nouri (Sudan), actor and stage director. He founded in 2004 the theatre company Al bugaa, which travels to conflict zones of Sudan and puts up plays that are enacted by child soldiers or orphans of wars. His uses various techniques of narration such as folklore and pantomime that find their inspiration in the cultural heritage of Sudan. The International Jury found that he had understood how to use the Arabic language and culture (songs and specially tales) as a point of resilience, from which, young actors could find ways to reconstruct themselves. The active role played by Ali Mahdi Nouri in the International Institute of Theatre has brought him world renown.
Chérif Khaznadar (France). He is a stage director, writer and poet whose invaluable contribution to promoting dialogue, in particular between Arab culture and other cultures, for nearly 50 years has been internationally acknowledged. Named the “culture smuggler”, he set out to promote Arab theatre then music, building a full-fledged cultural bridge between Arab countries and France, in particular. As President of the Maison des cultures du monde, he gave Arab cultural events pride of place. His commitment to boost exchanges led to the creation, some 15 years ago, of the Festival de l’imaginaire, an interdisciplinary cultural event entirely dedicated to intercultural dialogue.
Ghani Alani (Iraq) is a poet and calligrapher. Heir of the Baghdad calligraphy school, he is one of the greatest contemporary calligraphers and an internationally acclaimed artist whose works were exhibited in every major capital city around the world. Through his work, Ghani Alani perpetuates the tradition of Arab-Muslim art of calligraphy which represents the highest expression of knowledge in the Arab culture, the art that brings together its various facets. This prize is awarded to Ghani Alani for making the Western world aware of calligraphy, one of the richest forms of art in the Arab culture.
Anna Parzymies (Poland). Professor of Arabic linguistics at the Department of Arab and Islamic Studies, in 1998 she set up the Department of Islam in Europe at the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the University of Warsaw – one of the leading academic institutions in Western Europe dedicated to the religious and cultural life and legal situation of the Arab-Muslim population of the region. As director of a publishing house dedicated to Arab culture, Anna Parzymies has undertaken the publication of more than 80 books.
Dr Gaber Asfour (Egypt). Academician and professor at several Arab, European and American universities. Also literary critic and former Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Culture, he is currently Director of the National Centre for Translation in Cairo. Dr Asfour has played an immense role in expanding the influence of Arab culture. Through his various professional contacts, he has succeeded in creating links and building bridges among specialists in Arab culture, both in the Arab world and beyond. The achievements of this open-minded intellectual have significantly increased the knowledge and visibility of Arab culture. Dr. Asfour’s highly original literary criticism, has gained worldwide recognition. As a prominent advocate of cultural dialogue, he has promoted values such as the advancement of women, respect for others, creative diversity and tolerance. A prolific writer and researcher, Dr Asfour has published numerous works, notably on the Enlightenment, women, and Arab literature and traditions. He has been actively involved in the translation of books into Arabic, and routinely writes columns for leading Arab newspapers.
Dr José Adalberto Coelho Alves (Portugal). Writer, poet, legal specialist and Portuguese Orientalist, he is currently President of the Centre for Arab and Portuguese Studies at Silves. He chaired the committee responsible for the creation of the Foundation for Arab Memory, served as Vice-President of the Luso-Arab Institute for Cooperation, and was a member of the Administrative Council of the Portuguese Foundation of Arab and Islamic Heritage. Throughout his career, he has built bridges of friendship between the Arab world, the West and particularly Portugal. In his capacity as a specialist of Arab culture and writer, Mr Coelho Alves has inspired many Portuguese and Spanish authors in diverse fields including film, television, all performing arts, novel-writing and poetry. He has also made major contributions to the understanding of Arab culture in the Iberian Peninsula. Dr Coelho Alves is the author of many publications on Arab culture in Portuguese, as well as in other languages. He is actively dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge about Arab history and culture during the Muslim occupation of Portugal (Al-Gharb el Andalus). His work in the area of translation has been recognized by the Portuguese Language Society, which awarded him the Arab translation prize.
Aladine Lolah (Syria) is a professor at Aleppo University and an architect. Through his work at the university, he has helped to spread knowledge about the history of science in Arab countries. Director of the Institute for the History of Arabic Science at Aleppo University, he is also a member of the Conseil de Perfectionnement of the Institut français du Proche Orient (IFPO), thus contributing to dialogue between civilizations and mutual understanding.
Shah Abdus Salam (India) is a professor at the University of New Delhi where he directs research on literature and Arab culture. His numerous publications are centered on the topics of Islamic culture and inter-faith dialogue. His work is already well-known in India, the United States, Canada, England, France and Saudi Arabia.
Jamal Al- Shalabi (Jordan). He holds a PhD in Political Science from the Faculty of Law at the Panthéon-Assas University (Paris II), France 1995, as well as Professor in comparative political analysis from the University of Bordeaux. Professor at the Hashemite University in Jordan he is recognized for his longstanding commitment to intercultural dialogue. In his numerous books and articles, he has explored and compared the evolution of the politics of Arab and European countries. In this respect, his book entitled Mohamed H. Haikal between the socialist politics of Nasser and the Infitah politics of Sadat, 1952-1981, along with his book on the shared vision of Europeans and Arabs, constitute the major points of reference in the evolution of his political philosophy. In addition Professor Al-Shalabi stressed the importance of women’s rights by highlighting the example of his native country, Jordan.
Yordan Peev (Bulgaria). Professor at University of Sofia, he is emeritus Bulgarian scientific and is recognized for his important contribution to promoting and dissemination of Arab-Muslim civilisation in Bulgaria and worldwide. He is known for his publications on Arab Culture. Professor Peev has devoted his life to achieving a better understanding of the contemporary Muslim world, through his teachings and lectures, not only in Bulgaria, and other European countries but in many Arab countries. He has contributed to increasing our understanding of Arab thought and culture in today’s world.
Tahar Ouettar (Algeria) is journalist and writer. He is one of the leading figures of Arabic-language letters in Algeria. He has published novels such as The Ace, The Donkey’s Wedding, The Candle and Dark Tunnels. As a journalist, Mr Ouettar took part in the creation of two magazines Al-Jamahir and Al Ahar. He edits the cultural supplement of the daily Al-Chaab and, since 1989, has been the president of the cultural association Aljahidhiya. Tahar Quettar died in 2010.
Michel Lagarde (France). He belongs to the Society of Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), and teaches in Rome at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI). He has been a life-long student of the Arabic language and Islam. He has translated into French the Kitab al-Mawaqif (Livre des Haltes) by Abd Al Qadir al-Djazairi, one of the leading figures of Sufism in the 19th century. Mr Lagarde also translated the Great Commentary of Fahr al-Dîn al-Râzî.
Abdelwahab Bouhdiba (Tunisia), sociology professor at the University of Tunis who holds degrees in philosophy and literature, was born in 1932 in the Tunisian city of Kairouan. Since 1995, he has presided over the "Beït AI Hikma" Tunisian Academy of Sciences, Literature and Arts in Carthage. His best-known work is La Sexualité en Islam (Sexuality in Islam), which has been translated in English, Arabic, Bosnian, Spanish and Japanese, and will soon be available in Portuguese.
Juan Vernet Ginés (Spain). Born in 1923 in Barcelona, Juan Vernet Ginés is a renowned specialist in Arab science and the evolution of science – especially astronomy and map-making – during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Among his nearly 40 books and more than 300 articles are: Literatura árabe (1966) ; Astrología y astronomía en el Renacimiento : la revolución copernicana (1974) ; Historia de la ciencia española (1976) ; La Cultura hispano árabe en Oriente y Occidente (1978) ; Mahoma (1987) and his versions of the Koran and 1001 Arabian Nights. Juan Vernet Ginés died in 2011.
Bensalem Hemmich (Morocco). Former Minister of Culture, philosopher, novelist and scriptwriter, he is the author of numerous books (in Arabic and French). Five of his novels have been translated into several languages. His bilingual work has made a powerful contribution to the dissemination and influence of contemporary Arab literature.
Esad Durakovic (Bosnia Herzegovina) is Professor at the University of Sarajevo and Member Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Department of Humanities. He is an outstanding Bosnian scholar of Arabic literature and translator of the Koran and The Thousand and One Nights.
Abdulaziz el Makalah (Yemen). Professor of Arab literature, he is one of Arab world’s leading poets and is deeply committed to promoting and developing Yemen’s culture.
Professor Na Zhong (China). Born in 1910 into a Muslim family of the Hui community in Yunnan Province. He worked for over 60 years to promote a better understanding of Arab culture in China and was the first to teach Arabic in a Chinese University (Central University, now Nanjing University). Professor Na is the author of over 20 books on Islamic history and religion.