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Saudi Reading Competition Opens to Competitors from Across the Arab World

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) has opened its “Reader of the Year” competition to high school and university age participants from all over the Arab world for the first time. For younger participants, the contest is still restricted to Saudi nationals only.

Ithra, based in Dhahran, is an initiative of the Saudi oil company Aramco that promotes knowledge and creativity. It launched the Ithra reading programme, called iRead, in 2013 with the aim of spreading the culture of reading in Saudi society and inspiring a million new readers by 2030.

In recent weeks, the centre’s officials have holding “Reading Travels” events in Arab capitals from Riyadh to Rabat, including Amman, Cairo and Muscat, to promote the Reader of the Year competition and other iRead activities.

“Over the past seven years, the Reader of the Year contest was limited to Saudi nationals alone,” Noura Al-Harthi, Ithra’s media officer, told Al-Fanar Media at an event in Cairo last month. “This year’s edition has expanded its scope to include all parts of the Arab world.”

The Reader of the Year competition is for readers at all educational levels from elementary school to university (ages 9 to 25). Starting with the upcoming eighth edition, the competition is open to all Arab nationals at the secondary school and university level. Registration for younger readers, in elementary and middle school, is still limited to Saudi nationals only.

Honouring Teachers

Reader of the Year is one of two main competitions sponsored by iRead, Al-Harthi said. The other, “Reading Ambassadors”, highlights the role of teachers.

Teachers are an important, though often neglected, aspect of education, Al-Harthi said. She explained that everyone talks about their library at home and their parents’ books, while forgetting teachers’ role in fueling students’ desire to read.

“Over the past seven years, the Reader of the Year contest was limited to Saudi nationals alone. This year’s edition has expanded its scope to include all parts of the Arab world.”

Noura Al-Harthi, media officer at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra)

The Reading Ambassadors competition was created to honour male and female teachers who have encouraged their students and ignited their passion for reading.

Reader of the Year

Would be competitors for the Reader of the Year title must register on iRead’s website. High school and university applicants have until December 31 to enter. Registration for elementary and middle school readers has already closed. (More detail about the terms and conditions for participation is available here.)

Each entrant must submit a review, written in Standard Arabic, of an Arabic or English book. A committee will sort through the applications to select 90 high school and university student qualifiers who will be invited to attend personal interviews in Riyadh. Interviews for elementary and middle school qualifiers will be online.

After the interviews, 50 candidates will be selected to attend an “enrichment forum” at the Ithra centre. The forums last one week for elementary and middle school students, and two weeks for the high school and university students. Forum participants will follow an intensive schedule of dialogue sessions and lectures from ten in the morning until ten at night.

After the forums, the judges select ten finalists, amongst whom will be the eventual winner of the Reader of the Year title.

Other Activities

The reading programme has other arms. Cultural events are being held in several cities, such as the Reading Travels events in Cairo and other Arab capitals. There will also be a “Reading Marathon” in which an area of the Ithra centre’s library is set up for people to read a selection of books over a three-day period. People are encouraged to read as many pages as possible, and for every 100 pages read, Ithra will plant a tree.

Another arm of the reading fest is called “Katabiya”, where readers exchange books, and thus knowledge. 



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