The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature

The Sponsor

The Saif Ghobash family

The Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is wholly sponsored by the Saif Ghobash family in memory of their husband and father, the late Saif Ghobash (21 October 1932 – 25 October 1977), and is known as The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. 

“A prize for people who are so dedicated to the power of literature and the power of translation seems so clearly something my father would have supported himself,” said his son Omar Saif Ghobash, adding: “When I spoke with the other members of our family, they supported the idea immediately – before I could finish my sentence! It is a small but fitting tribute to my father’s memory.” 

About Saif Ghobash

From the United Arab Emirates, Saif Ghobash was a self-made man with a broad knowledge of culture and world affairs, “an international intellectual” as his friends called him. Passionate about the literature of the Arab world and the literatures of other countries, he travelled and studied widely, loved the world of books, and had his own collection in many different languages which his family inherited on his untimely death in 1977.. 

Saif Ghobash was born in 1932 in Ras Al Khaimah. When he was 12 his father died and just three months later he lost his mother. He moved to live with his aunt in Dubai for the next three years. In 1949, aged 17, he left his home country and began a journey, which was to last twenty years, in search of knowledge. First, he travelled to Bahrain to continue his studies and, in 1953, after graduating from The Eastern School in Manama, he travelled to Iraq to study engineering at the University of Baghdad. In 1956 he moved to Egypt after receiving a scholarship from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Cairo. However, the College of Engineering in Cairo did not recognise his Baghdad studies, and so he travelled to Kuwait, where he worked as an assistant engineer in the Kuwaiti Public Works Department.

In 1959, Saif Ghobash left Kuwait for Austria, working in Graz and learning German. He then moved to Germany, working for a construction company in Düsseldorf, still determined to save enough to continue his studies. He worked also in Switzerland, from where he made frequent visits to Italy, and in 1963 travelled to Paris, working, learning French and studying literature and philosophy, before receiving a scholarship from the Soviet Union, enabling him, at last, to continue his studies at Leningrad University.

In 1969, after twenty years working and studying abroad, Saif Ghobash returned to his home town in Ras al-Khaimah. He began to work in the field of diplomacy and, on 25 December 1973, he became the First Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the recently federated United Arab Emirates.

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This award for Arabic literary translation was the first prize in the world dedicated to awarding published translation of contemporary Arabic literature into English. The continued sponsorship of the Saif Ghobash family after the prize reached its tenth year in 2015 is much appreciated. To mark ten years of the award for literary translation from Arabic to English, Omar Saif Ghobash and the Saif Ghobash family extended their sponsorship to the establishment of an Annual Lecture, the inaugural lecture being held at the British Library, London, on 14 October 2016.

With the Lecture, the Banipal Trust looks forward to increasingly wider support for reading literature from the Arab world in English translation, and to working with publishers, translators and booksellers to encourage and promote both the wider translation and wider availability of contemporary works of literature by Arab authors.