It is not strange that the Emirate of Sharjah, which is a beacon of culture, art and literature, gave birth to one of the most important and prominent pioneers in the book industry, publishing and knowledge sector. World level.
Sheikha Bodour, the daughter of the ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, who played a prominent role in crowning Sharjah with the title of “The World Book Capital 2019”. “Al-Ahram” newspaper specialized in an important and interesting dialogue in which she talked about the great role played by the Publishers Union in Egypt, stressing that it is a good example for many Other Arab publishing unions and associations. She explained that Egypt has been and still is at the forefront of cultural development in the Arab world for many years to this day, noting that this is a source of pride for all Egyptians and Arabs. The President of the International Federation praised Egypt’s enjoyment of a large local market for books with a high percentage of young readers who are Internet pioneers, and confirmed that during her presidency of the Federation, her focus will be on achieving stability in the sector and supporting publishers to develop their digital capabilities to meet the needs and tastes of new readers.
You have been appointed President of the International Publishers Association to become the first Arab and Emirati woman to hold this position in the history of the Federation, and the second woman in the world. Can you tell us about your bus journey to reach this prestigious position?
Happy to be the second woman to hold the presidency of the International Federation of Publishers in 124 years, and proud to be the first Arab to reach this position. Not only do I see it as a personal achievement for me, but for all women leaders working in the Arab publishing sector in particular, and the world in general. I joined the publishing sector in 2007 out of my desire to provide Arabic books with good content to my children who did not like the Arabic books that were available in the market at that time. For this reason, I launched the “Kalimat” group, and after its establishment, I became more familiar with the world of publishing and its complexities as well as its importance in the social, cultural and economic development of societies. She and some colleagues in the Emirates founded the Emirates Publishers Association. After that, I launched many cultural activities related to books, reading and literacy for children. I participated, through the Emirates Publishers Association, in many activities of Arab publishers, and then I began to participate in the activities of the International Publishers Association.
My journey in the International Publishers Association was enjoyable and full of experience and knowledge. I learned a lot about global publishing, its challenges, its diversity, its complexities, and its potential. I was elected to various committees in the International Publishers Association, which gave me more experience about the union, its mission and methods of work. After a few years and served as a member of the various committees, I was elected as a vice president of the federation before my candidacy for the position of president.
What are the efforts of the International Federation to promote the reality of the book industry in Egypt?
I encourage Egyptian publishers to engage more with the federation and its members. It is a useful participation and I am fully confident that participation positively affects the development of the publishing sector in their markets, as the role of the Union is to support its members in their efforts to develop and grow. We provide support to enhance the operating environment, legislative environment and copyright. We also provide capacity building support by organizing workshops, trainings and knowledge-sharing activities. We invite all Egyptian and Arab members to all international events so that they can communicate with their global counterparts. We also encourage union members to create and diversify partnerships with each other. In 2019, we organized a regional seminar for the Federation in the Jordanian capital Amman, focusing on the Arab publishing sector. It was an important event that was attended by a large group of Egyptian publishers and interacted with their colleagues from the Arab world.
And how does the union see the publishing and book industry in Egypt?
Egypt has been and still is at the forefront of cultural development in the Arab world for many years to this day, and that is a source of pride for Egyptians and all Arabs. The Cairo International Book Fair is one of the largest book fairs in the region and its strength reflects the dynamic book industry in Egypt. We are aware of the challenges that publishers have faced in Egypt, especially after the float of the pound in 2016, given that printing houses are an import-based industry and many publishers have had to leave the market. Because of the high cost of production, the increase in the prices of publications, and the decrease in purchasing power. But as the local economy stabilized, the industry began to recover again. Despite this good news, I believe that the Egyptian publishing sector has not yet achieved its true potential. The Covid-19 crisis presents a really good opportunity to modernize the infrastructure of the book industry while creating updated databases and embarking on the journey of digital transformation. Egypt has a large domestic market for books with a high percentage of young readers who are Internet pioneers, and this is a great opportunity in itself, not to mention the regional and global markets. I believe that the future is bright for the Egyptian book industry, and we are committed to supporting our colleagues in Egypt to develop their business on the global level.
Is there a plan that the union will set for the growth of the publishing sector in the Arab markets, especially the Egyptian market?
The federation does not set a plan for developing a specific market, but rather supports the plans developed by its members. We support our members in various ways so that they have the knowledge and environment conducive to growth. For example, we launched a report last November entitled “From Response to Recovery” during the Federation’s Annual General Assembly. The Federation prepared this report jointly with several publishers around the world with the aim of presenting a document to all publishers around the world that they can read and benefit from. The report includes many case studies on how publishers have responded to the “Covid-19” crisis and their successful measures to overcome the crisis. It also includes a roadmap for recovering from the crisis on the basis of which we are working on preparing a global plan for the future of publishing that will be shared with all of our members. The report is an important document that is available on the Federation’s website and I encourage all publishers, including Egyptian and Arab publishers, to read this report and share it with their knowledge.
Can you tell us about your vision to support the book industry at the international level and transfer Arabic literature to Western cultures?
During this stage, my focus during my presidency of the Union will be on achieving stability in the sector, and this matter is extremely important, because we still have not fully recovered from the repercussions of the Corona epidemic. My second priority will be to support publishers to develop their digital capabilities to meet the needs and tastes of new readers. As you know, my first official visit as President of the Federation was to Egypt, where I met with the members of the Arab Publishers Union and the Publishers Union in Egypt. I was pleased to meet them and we exchanged ideas about the current situation and the future of publishing in the Arab world. I believe that Arabic literature has enormous potentials that qualify it to build a broad base of readers all over the world, but it is still not fully exploited.
You have made great efforts in serving the publishing sector in various countries of the world. To what extent will the Union contribute, under your leadership, to support the publishing industry and publishers at the regional and international levels?
During my tenure as Vice President of the Federation, we launched the International Federation of Publishers’ regional seminars for the first time, as the support for these regional seminars is a strong indication of the Union’s commitment to provide support to its members around the world, and to support the development of the local publishing system and during my presidency of the Federation, I will continue to respect our commitment towards Members from publishing unions and societies. In this period, the Union provides support to its members in various ways to alleviate the consequences of the Corona virus crisis. The Federation will continue its supportive role for its members with regard to freedom of publication and copyright issues, which are two basic messages of the Federation, and without them, the publishing system cannot achieve any tangible progress. Finally, in the next two years, the Federation will continue to support its members through seminars, courses and training workshops to build capacity in order to help publishers and associations accelerate the pace of digital transformation that has become so important for the future of publishing.
Respect for freedom of publication and respect for human rights are essential foundations for encouraging publication. What role does the union play to preserve and support these foundations?
Freedom of publication is a sensitive and complex issue that has many dimensions on the cultural, political, religious and economic levels. The International Publishers Association is considered one of the most prominent defenders of freedom of publication in the world, based on its conviction that censorship undermines the process of growth and development of this industry and impedes the wheel of cultural development in general.
The Union is keen to be at the forefront of defenders of this freedom and to monitor any violations in this regard, and it does not hesitate to participate in supporting publishers and authors who are subjected to harassment, prosecution and persecution around the world.
What are your plans to confront the impact of the Corona virus on the publishing industry, especially with regard to the production and export operations?
The Union will support this process in all possible ways, because we believe that we are at an important transitional stage and at the threshold of a new history and we want to be a part of it. Therefore, in this context, we are preparing a global publishing plan with the aim of supporting the member publishing societies and moving local publishers to the next stage of development. This plan will take into account the views of all stakeholders – authors, illustrators, designers, publishers, regulators, governments, and more. Every opinion and point of view will also be included in order to develop a solid plan for the sector’s transition to the future.
How will you support the electronic publishing sector in the Arab markets in light of the Corona pandemic?
This is an important question, and it was one of the topics under discussion during our meeting with the Arab Publishers Association. The “Covid-19” virus crisis has proven that digital publishing has now become a necessary imperative in all markets, and that investing in building a strong digital infrastructure is a fruitful investment. For example, in emerging publishing markets in developing digital economies, opportunities exist for national publishing societies to digitize national book fairs, develop online markets for members, and leverage supply chain information sharing to create alternative sources of revenue while supporting the broader trends of digital transformation in the publishing market. We are ready in the federation to provide support to our member publishing associations in order to accelerate the process of digitizing the services of members of the national associations to maintain or increase revenues, and to support members of the national publishing associations in their digital transformations.