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), has named renowned Egyptian musician Omar Khairat as the Cultural Personality of the Year for its 17th edition, in honour of decades-long career of musical creations that have contributed to shaping the collective cultural consciousness of the Arab region. 

The SZBA Board of Trustees endorsed the Scientific Committee’s decision to choose Khairat as the Cultural Personality of the Year in recognition of his artistic output, which has featured in musical introductions to films and in television drama series. Khairat’s selection also underlines Abu Dhabi’s designation as a UNESCO City of Music, for its efforts to support the music sector and bridge the gap between the Arab world and other cultures, promoting openness and cultural exchange. 

His Excellency Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, Undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “Abu Dhabi has established itself as a thriving centre for culture and creativity through its numerous initiatives, such as the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, which support and enable the arts and other creative disciplines. Each year, the Cultural Personality of the Year award honours a prominent figure who has contributed to the advancement of Arabic culture and promoted peaceful coexistence.

“This year, we are proud to select Omar Khairat, one of the most renowned and celebrated musicians in the Arab world. His constant striving for excellence and innovation has seen the artist make an incalculable impact on the music industry and the wider cultural landscape, as well as foster important cross-cultural dialogue. His passion reflects Abu Dhabi’s vision to nurture creativity and harness the power of the arts to build bridges and transcend borders.”

His Excellency Dr Ali bin Tamim, Secretary General of the SZBA and Chairman of the ALC, said: “The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is committed to highlighting prominent artistic and intellectual figures whose remarkable contributions to the cultural movement are sure to resonate through the generations. Musician Omar Khairat is certainly one of these individuals; his music will always inspire deeper meanings and emotions, carrying within its notes the markers of our culture, which he has been able to brilliantly mix with other cultures, creating timeless masterpieces that will remain engraved in our memory and our identity.”

Born in Cairo in 1947, Khairat was among the first batch to graduate from the Conservatoire Music Institute, where he studied piano under the Italian Professor Caro, in addition to studying musical theory. He then moved on to study music composition at Trinity College in London, where his independent musical persona was formed, establishing himself as a professional composer. Early in his career, Khairat joined Les Petits Chats, an Egyptian rock band formed in the 1960s. He also played the drums in various groups, which influenced his music. The public was first introduced to Khairat with the soundtrack for the 1983 film The Night Fatima was Arrested.

He later composed scores and soundtracks for television series, blending western orchestral music with oriental melodies, using western instruments such as the piano, xylophone, clarinet, oboe, and saxophone, in addition to oriental instruments, such as the accordion, the lute, the qanun, and the violin. His most notable works include The Case of Uncle Ahmed; The Miser and I; The Conscience of Abla Hikmat; Ghuayish and The Night Fatima was Arrested. Khairat also reinterpreted songs composed by Mohammed Abdel Wahab, including Inta Omri and Emta Iz-Zaman Yesmah. Abdel Wahab even thanked him for the re-distributions interpretations and described it as “the most beautiful gift he was ever given”. 

Khairat has won numerous Egyptian and Arab awards and certificates of appreciation for his work, including the Golden Knight Award in 2001 from the Egyptian Radio and Television Union for the song Al Masri, composed for a film by Scott H. Nassour; the Oscar of Egyptian Cinema Award from the Egyptian Cinema Art Association in 2003 for the film Mafia, and the Audience Choice Award for the best soundtrack in 2005 for the series Agent 1001.