Which Arabs Read? Emiratis and Lebanese

Jordanian children's book author Taghreed Najjar reads to children in Dubai. Photo borrowed from Buzoor: community.buzoor.com.

Part of the explanation behind the new Shorouk-Penguin publishing venture is that a growing number of young Arabs are picking up books.

And it may even be true—according to a new six-nation study published by the Ipsos Research Center—but these young Arabs with an appetite for reading are probably not Egyptians. A press release put out by the survey’s authors reminds us of our old rag of a saying: Egypt writes, Lebanon publishes, Iraq reads.

The Ipsos press release notes:

However, the UAE has now destroyed such theories since it has been rated first in reading with 54.2%, followed by Lebanon with 53.5%, then Jordan with 47.6% while Egypt was ranked last at 10.6%, falling behind Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with 44.8% consecutively.

So it isn’t young Egyptians reading (except online and on the phone), but it is apparently young people:

Observers are aware of the fact that reading in Gulf countries is generally done by the youth who are between 15 and 30 years old.

Indeed, the Emiratis seem to be making the greatest strides in Arabic-language education, Arabic children’s publishing, and in  chastising themselves to read more. At this year’s Sharjah International Book Fair, Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, who opened the fair, urged participants to read, read, read. (Um, have you ever heard Hosni asking us to read books?)

Even more recently, in an opinion piece in The National, Sharjah-based media consultant Muhammad Ayish scolds:

I find it intriguing that reading was the first sacred commandment from Allah to Prophet Mohammed – a command that was fully heeded throughout Arab-Islamic history and observed as a knowledge-seeking practice. Yet, in our modern times, this habit has been relegated as a low priority in intellectual and cognitive development, a luxury that is optional at best.

Perhaps the best sign that a nation is reading more is that it scolds itself for not reading enough.

Meanwhile, the Ipsos study’s bandied-about headline was that “Arabs spend 1/3 of lives on mobile phones, TV, Internet.

According to the report, the “average Arab citizen” must not go to work, because he or she:

…watches television for four hours every day; talks on mobile phones for an hour and a half; surfs the Internet for an hour; and spends the remaining eight hours listening to the radio, reading newspapers or playing video games.

So: Egypt writes (this is still indeed true, at least in the world of grown-up literature), Egypt-Lebanon-Qatar-UAE publish, and Lebanon and the UAE read.

But it seems likely that Egypt’s writing prowess is coming for a big challenge from the nations that…read.