Walid Taher - APRIL 2018

By Aysha Majid

Emirates Literature Festival plays host to a number of renowned authors and regional game-changers and it’s Walid Taher, a political and social cartoonist, author and illustrator of numerous children's books, that first intrigued us...

Having designed educational material for UNICEF as well as contributing to campaigns for the World Health Organization, Taher also worked for Karma Media House, where he illustrated Egyptian characters for Sesame Street. His work has won him numerous awards including the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate Award for Best Cartoonist, in the children’s book “El Bateekha."


What are your thoughts on the integration of politics and satire?

I think that everything is connected and politics is about life and daily details, not necessarily about regime or party. I believe politics is everything in our lives.


Can you name your top five essential qualities of a good children's book?

That is a nice question. Humour, accessisibility, easy but deep and beautiful, but not perfect drawings as we know; beautiful meaning the subject performance of that book. To be alive! To have longevity, to stay active and timeless— can I read it when I am 10, 15, 20, 40, 50, is it valid.


How do you come up with the ideas for your illustrations?

I started my career in magazines and all of the artists when I first started, they did everything— portraits, paintings, writing— they were strong artists and they encouraged me to pursue these things. They said, "We are your teachers and you have to follow us."


What is your perception of Dubai?

You live in Dubai?


I have to answer you honestly, in Egypt we have two visions about Dubai. In Egypt culture means communist, it means people, it means not for the capitalist and that luxury and my friends are against that type of life because it's too much and everything is gold and this was my opinion at first, honestly. But when I came here many many times, I started to respect something here. They want…and yes they don't have the 'history' of England, for example, but they work at it. Let's talk about what they do (not what they don't have) and what they do is nice. Dubai is a strange place for sure. The first time I came here I thought I was in an airport waiting for a flight, it's so transient, but it is good.


When you visit Dubai, what are your top three favourite places to visit and why?

I discovered a very good place, it's under the Dubai Mall. They have galleries and restaurants and honestly, I like the aquarium in Dubai Mall! The first time I saw this I thought wow! I know it's childish or touristy but I was blown away by this and the Burj Khalifa is a very nice building, I visited the top floor. The Creek also— I love this historic area. It has a sad past, as this was a port for slaves and trading many years ago.


How do you feel publishing has changed over the past decade?

I worked from Egypt for many years and now I work between Egypt and last year I was in Marseille working for a French publishing house. Now I think publishing is better because most publishing houses know about quality and how to deliver, the Arab world has developed. The difference is the professionalism. The French and the West has a history in publishing but in Egypt, Sudan and Libya, for example, they have a problem in making it successful economically so it's difficult to have a good book at a good price.


What would be your top three tips to young publishers today?

There's still a problem with those three partners in the industry— publisher, writer and illustrator. Everyone has still not made a good deal as a team. "I am the boss.” “No I am the writer.” “No, my work is the most important because I make it attractive.” The publisher: "No, I have the money." There is always a fight between those three partners. My advice for that is, let's make a deal. We are equal partners and we have to work together, with that attitude. You are not the boss, I am not the boss, the book is the boss. We have a problem with a dream, we always want to be the first but in the end we are 10. If we work together in that 10, as one, then we can achieve something great and present something good in the Arab world. As we are 10, we don't have to work in competition. You have money, I have books, you have words, let's all be a part of that world.


Leaving us with these profound words, Taher pauses and says candidly…


Stop talking about the Arab side. If you talk from that point, we start to create division. I talk about my feelings and not my identity. We are human all over the world.


Taher smiles, we shake hands, he thanks me for my questions and walks out of the lobby...