Abu Dhabi, UAE – The Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA), organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre (ALC), part of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), organised an academic conference on the significant influence of ‘Arabian Nights’ in Spain on 10 June 2024, in collaboration with the Casa Árabe foundation in Madrid, bringing together academic speakers and Arabic language and literature experts. 

Titled ‘Arabian Nights: A Cultural Journey across Continents and Centuries, from Abu Dhabi to Madrid via Tokyo and London’, the conference reflected the Sheikh Zayed Book Award's unwavering commitment to fostering robust ties with Casa Árabe, as it seeks to bridge the gap between Arab and Spanish cultures and strengthen dialogue and understanding among cultures worldwide.

A delegation from the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre attended the Conference, bringing together H.E. Dr. Ali bin Tamim, Chairman of ALC and Secretary-General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award; Abdulrahman Mohamed Al-Naqbi, Director of the ALC’s Literary Awards Department; H.E. Omar Obaid Alshamsi, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the Kingdom of Spain; H.E. Hala Keyrouz, Ambassador of Lebanon to Spain; H.E. Khalifa Al Kharafi, Kuwaiti Ambassador to Spain; H.E. Raghad Al Saqqa, Ambassador of Jordan to Spain; H.E. Zeineb Ely Salem, Ambassador of Mauritania to Spain; H.E. Abdullah Hallak, Chargé d'Affaires of the Syrian Embassy in Spain; and `H.E. Hisham Nouri, from the cultural attaché of the Yemeni Embassy in Spain`. A select group of Arab and Spanish academics, authors, and literary figures were also in attendance.

H.E. Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, Undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “Our collaboration with Casa Árabe in Madrid to hold the ‘Arabian Nights’ conference is part of Abu Dhabi's endeavours to develop platforms that bring together different peoples and cultures around the world, fostering bridges of dialogue based on tolerance, understanding, respect and acceptance of others' cultures. Through these conferences, we also aim to promote and disseminate the Arabic language, introducing its literature, heritage and cultural and civilisational legacy.”

H.E. Dr. Ali bin Tamim, Chairman of ALC and Secretary-General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, said: “The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is dedicated to upholding the values of tolerance, dialogue, and cooperation among various cultures and peoples around the world, enriching the cultural landscape. Spain served as the inaugural destination for our ‘Arabian Nights’ conference, and will be followed by two additional stops in Japan and the United Kingdom, reflecting our continuous efforts to promote and disseminate Arab culture internationally. We hope this conference inspires more thinkers, researchers, translators and students, encouraging them to delve deeper into Arab culture. We also aim to contribute to cultural communication with Spain, building bridges of communication and understanding between peoples.’

Irene Lozano Domingo, General Director of Casa Árabe Foundation, said: “At Casa Árabe, we are very happy to be able to work together with one of the most important cultural institution in the Gulf region. Organising this seminar dedicated to ‘Arabian Nights’ is just one more example of our close collaboration and good harmony. The alliance with SZBA allows us to reinforce our presence as a Spanish institution of public diplomacy in the region, thus contributing to building bridges and improving understanding between our societies.”

With its enduring tales, stories, and characters, ‘Arabian Nights’ stands as a testament to human creativity, enriching world literature and serving as a bridge between Arab culture and others, particularly bridging East and West. It was translated into numerous international languages and inspired countless writers, artists, and poets, becoming a timeless human heritage passed down through generations. The work continues to be studied, critiqued, and analysed till today across the East and the West.

The conference coincided with the Madrid International Book Fair, providing an opportunity for communication and cultural exchange among the participating dignitaries.

The conference hosted a panel discussion on ‘The Influence of the Arabian Nights in Spain’, featuring distinguished renowned researchers and specialists including: Luis Alberto de Cuenca, a renowned writer, poet, critic, translator and academic, who twice served as the Secretary of Culture of Spain and former Director of the National Library, and was a laureate in 2015 of the National Poetry Award. He delivered a special keynote at the conference.

The list also included Paulo Lemos Horta, Assistant Professor of Literature at NYU Abu Dhabi, who has published extensive research on ‘Arabian Nights’ and recently edited a new annotated edition translated by Yasmine Seale; Salvador Peña Martín, Professor of Arabic Language and Translation at the University of Malaga, who has also taught at the universities of Baghdad, Leeds, Granada, Tetouan, and Castilla-La Mancha. His previous writings focused on the reception of ‘Arabian Nights’ in Spain, and in 2017, he received the National Translation Prize of Spain for his Spanish translation of ‘Arabian Nights’.

Mounira Soliman, Professor of English at Cairo University, was also on the panel; she co-edited Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa: A Postcolonial Outlook (2013), in which she explored the fantasy of ‘Arabian Nights’ in Western culture. And lastly, Desirée López Bernal, Senior Professor in the Department of Semitic Studies at the University of Granada, where she teaches subjects related to classical Arabic literature and the transmission of Arabic literature to European literatures. Her research revolves around these two thematic axes, and she is the author of several studies on the trace of Arabic storytelling in Spanish and European written literature and oral tradition. She is currently participating in a research project titled ‘The corpus of oral narrative in the western Mediterranean basin: comparative study and digital edition’.

Meanwhile, Iraqi visual artist Hanoos Hanoos delivered an audiovisual presentation, drawing from his recent exhibition Shahrazad and the Arabian Nights. Hanoos Hanoos is a painter and modern art teacher. He has held more than 50 national and international exhibitions and has won 35 painting awards. He has been widely celebrated in Spain for his fostering of cultural links between the country and the Arab world. His works inspired by Arabian Nights have been displayed at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Madrid.

The conference concluded its programme with a concert by world-renowned Lebanese artist Abeer Nehme, celebrating the strength and enduring nature of cultural ties between Spain and the Arab world. In addition to her career as a singer and composer, Abeer works to facilitate cultural and musical dialogue within the Arab world and beyond. During the concert, she was accompanied by a Spanish band presenting a musical performance of Andalusian muwashahat and other songs that celebrated both Arab and Spanish cultures.