The Stats: Is There a Culture of Reading in The Arab World?

In the Arabic version of The Independent, writer Antoine Abou Zeid brings up a somewhat controversial and debated topic: do people in Arab culture read?

And the issue at hand is not if most Arabs can or can’t read, it’s more about if Arabs have a robust reading culture, whether professionally or casually, the way other cultures around the world do.

Zeid notes that the general consensus or stereotype is no: most Arabs do not read as often as people do in regions like Europe or the United States.

He lists several statistics on the matter which he says are commonly cited when discussing the subject.

  • On average, Arab children read one book per year compared to British children reading seven books per year and American children reading 11.
  • On average, one book is issued for every 12,000 citizens living in the Arab world compared to one book for every 500 British citizens and one for every 900 German citizens
  • On average, Arabs read six minutes per year compared to the 200 hours per year of non-Arabs in Europe and the U.S.

While statistics such as these whether factually sound or not are thrown around, Zeid writes that in reality Arabs read much more often than what is perceived, and this is according to data reported in the Arab Reading Index.

The data in the Arab Reading Index, which Zeid says was collected by the United Nations and the Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Foundation, is reportedly based on a questionnaire in which 148,000 people participated.

The data contradicts the stereotype and found that participants in the questionnaire from Egypt read an average of 63 hours a year and Arabs in general read an average of 35 hours a year.

The Arab Reading Index also found that its Arab participants read between 10 to 28 books every year, and that on average Arabs were reading more digital texts than physical.

Zeid reported that the Arab Reading Index found the Arab countries with citizens reading more often than the average included Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

The Arab Reading Index also reportedly addressed the issue of accessibility, and found that the Arab countries where literature was most readily available were Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and the UAE.

Based off this data and global advances in digital reading platforms, Zeid concluded that reading in Arab culture is not only more common than generally thought, it is also steadily growing in popularity as time goes on.

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