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German philosopher rejects UAE book award

Juergen Habermas reverses earlier decision to accept Sheikh Zayed Book Award, citing its proximity to government
German philosopher Juergen Habermas on stage at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin on 16 March 2017 (AFP)

A prominent German philosopher has rejected an award from the UAE, citing the prize's government sponsorship.

Juergen Habermas, a well-known sociologist and commentator, announced on Sunday that he had decided to reverse an earlier decision to accept the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, for which he had been declared Cultural Personality of the Year 2021.

“I declared my willingness to accept this year's Sheikh Zayed Book Award. That was a wrong decision, which I correct hereby," he told German news site Spiegel Online.

“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.”

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The winner of each of the award's eight categories receives the equivalent of $204,200.

The award is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late founder of the UAE and emir of Abu Dhabi.

Following Habermas' announcement, the award put out  a statement expressing its disappointment.

"The Sheikh Zayed Book Award expresses its regret for Mr Jurgen Habermas' decision to retract his acceptance of the award but respects it," it said on Monday.

"The award embodies the values of tolerance, knowledge and creativity while building bridges between cultures, and will continue to fulfil this mission."

Though the UAE has often tried to cultivate a liberal, cosmopolitan image abroad, critics say the country ruthlessly represses dissidents.

The Gulf state has been accused of employing extrajudicial methods to crack down on dissent within its borders and has been repeatedly criticised for its human rights record.

A 2016 Amnesty International report said that forced disappearances were pervasive in the country.