Last week, German philosopher Jürgen Habermas was declared the 2021 Sheikh Zayed Book Award “Cultural Personality of the Year.” Over the weekend he announced he will not accept the award.
The award is bestowed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government and named for Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE. It is intended to honor a prominent Arab or international figure or organization for their contribution to the advancement of Arabic culture, and comes with a prize of 1,000,000 UAE dirhams (approximately $272,000).
“Rarely do we find prominent figures in the philosophical, cultural and intellectual field like Jürgen Habermas. His career has been full of accomplishments and distinguished works, which have made him the most present and influential voice in German cultural life for more than 50 years,” said Dr Ali bin Tamim, Secretary General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, according to news reports.
Habermas had initially agreed to accept the award, but then changed his mind. “That was a wrong decision, which I correct hereby… I didn’t sufficiently make clear to myself the very close connection of the institution, which awards these prizes in Abu Dhabi, with the existing political system there,” he said via his publisher, according to The Washington Post. (This article summarizes human rights violations in the UAE.)
The UAE, on its website, said said it “expresses regret” for Habermas’ decision “but respects it,” according to the Associated Press.