How Arab connection to World Expos has evolved over time

People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 03 August 2021

How Arab connection to World Expos has evolved over time

People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Beginning in the mid-19th century, expos have grown to reflect trends in globalization and technology
  • After delays caused by the  pandemic, the first World Expo hosted by an Arab country opens in Dubai in October

DUBAI: Those unfamiliar with the concept of World Expos may have the misguided impression they are excruciatingly dull, corporate affairs. But the chronicle of such events, and the Arab world’s participation in them, tell a very different story.

For a host nation, a World Expo can be a rare occasion to stand front and center on the world stage. Participating countries can cultivate their national image and vie for acclaim, while visitors can feel as though the whole world has been put on display.

Part museum, part theme park and part political theater, World Expos are a kind of window on the collective global consciousness.

The earliest events, in the mid- to late-19th century, were a celebration of the Industrial Revolution, featuring mechanical wonders and architectural marvels such as the Crystal Palace in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

These events of mass spectacle brought together crowds of all nationalities and social class, accelerating globalization at a time when few had the luxury of world travel.




The Eiffel Tower in Paris was among the first world expos and celebrated the industrial revolution. (Public Domain)

As mass production accelerated, consumerism began to feature more prominently. In the 20th century, world expos became a launchpad for all kinds of new products: The ice cream cone (1904), nylon stockings (1939), live television (1939), the mobile phone (1970), and touchscreens (1982), to name a few.

More recently, the gatherings have sought to address collective global challenges. In 2010, Shanghai focused on making cities more livable. In 2015, Milan addressed the issue of sustainable agriculture.

Likewise, Dubai’s forthcoming Expo Live program is taking a grassroots approach, funding more than 140 global innovators tackling world problems.




Journalists visit the Sustainability Pavilion during a media tour at the Dubai Expo 2020, a week ahead of its public opening, in the United Arab Emirates, on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

For Arab states, as for all participating countries, a World Expo is a chance to showcase their achievements in architecture, food, agriculture, industry, the arts and intellectual pursuits.

Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco participated in the earliest expos. The first ever, the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, featured around 400 artefacts from Egypt and 103 from Tunisia. Egypt’s contributions included minerals, agricultural products, textiles, and leather goods, as well as 165 books from its oldest printing house, the Bulaq Press.

Tunisia was represented through textiles sent by a single exhibitor, “His Highness Mushir Basha, Bey of Tunis.” In a style ahead of its time, the Tunisian display was truly experiential. The center of the exhibit featured a recreated Tunisian street market, including a tent lined with furs, textiles, and perfumes.

The 1867 Exposition Universelle de Paris marked the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower. It was also Morocco’s first World Expo, in which it offered visitors a rich, memorable, sensory experience.




From Queen Victoria opening the 1851 London exhibition (top left) to Seville 1992 (bottom right), Arab nations have participated since the earliest expos. (AFP/Public Domain)

Omitting anything related to commerce, industry or agriculture, Morocco and Tunisia’s neighboring pavilions were ornate tents, displaying a genteel, regal way of life. The tents featured soft couches, thick carpets, and a white marble fountain, with colorful inlaid Moroccan tiles.

Levantine countries made their expo debuts in the early to mid-20th century. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Lebanon made its first appearance independent from France.

Al-Hoda, the leading Lebanese newspaper in the US, ascribed great significance to Lebanon’s participation in the fair, saying it put Lebanon “among the free and independent nations of the world for the first time in modern history.”

Cedar branches were brought into the pavilion, filling it with the fragrance of Lebanon. Some Lebanese Americans were so overcome with emotion they kneeled to kiss the branches, tears running down their faces.




The six-month Dubai Expo world fair is a milestone for the emirate, which has invested $8.2 billion on the event. (AFP/File Photo)

Four months into the fair, however, the Second World War broke out, and the event’s initial theme, “The World of Tomorrow,” was changed to “For Peace and Freedom.”

Expo ’58 took place in Brussels at the start of a historic era of peace and prosperity in Western Europe. Organizers were resolutely focused on telling a story of progress, both past and future.

That year, five Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq — occupied one pavilion. At its center was a ceramic mural depicting the Arab world as “the cradle of civilization.” The pavilion’s theme was focused on the rising standard of living in the Arab world.

The 1967 Montreal Expo was the centerpiece of Canada’s centennial celebrations. It was originally intended to be held in Moscow to mark the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, but owing to high costs and other issues, the USSR cancelled the event and Canada was awarded the expo instead in late 1962.




Lebanon made its first independent from France appearance at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, at the Ford Motor Building. (Public Domain)

Despite this late change of venue, the 1967 event became one of the most successful to date, with more than 50 million visitors — more than twice the population of Canada at the time — and a record 62 participating countries.

In Montreal, as part of the Arab pavilions complex, Kuwait and Algeria both participated for the first time. Algeria’s pavilion was a serene, simple design of marble and tile. It focused on Algerian history and culture, with films about its history and development of agriculture, technology, and art.

Kuwait’s pavilion illustrated the nation’s relationship with oil and featured a model desalination plant. However, owing to rising tensions in the Arab region, the pavilion was closed just one month into the six-month expo.




The first ever, the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, featured around 400 artefacts from Egypt and 103 from Tunisia. (Public Domain)

Most GCC nations first participated in a World Expo in 1970 or later. In its inaugural World Expo at Osaka in 1970, Abu Dhabi — which became the capital of the UAE within a year — created a replica Arabian fort. The structure was designed by an Egyptian city planner, Abdulrahman Makhlouf, who also worked on the city plan for Abu Dhabi.

The pavilion featured two minarets, one cylindrical and the other square. It was not elaborate. Aramco World reported Abu Dhabi’s contribution was, “simple … a memorable display … a symbol of the bright future awaiting Islam and the Arab world.”

At the 1992 Seville Expo in Spain, Oman made its first World Expo appearance. The Sultanate set a traditional tone with a large, heavy cedar door, steeped in the scent of frankincense. The pavilion focused on Oman’s history as a seafaring nation (and its most famous sailor, Sinbad), and highlighted traditional industries such as woodcraft and pottery.

A renaissance dome told visitors the story of how Oman had evolved from an ancient sultanate into a modern one.




Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai has promised that Expo 2020 Dubai will be the best World Expo ever. (AFP/File Photo)

The 2010 event in Shanghai breathed new life into the institution of World Expos. The Chinese government’s support for the Shanghai Expo netted a staggering 73 million visitors. Arab pavilions, including those of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were among the most popular, with long lines of visitors snaking around them.

Shanghai 2010 was Bahrain’s inaugural World Expo. Its pavilion was compact and took visitors on a journey from the past to the present and into the future, with a focus on Bahraini craftsmanship. As with many national pavilions at the event, Bahrain showcased an interactive story through touchscreen technology.

After delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the first World Expo to be hosted in the Middle East opens in Dubai in October, with tickets now on sale.

Expo Dubai 2020 promises to celebrate humanity’s successes, relish its present and set a course for its future. One thing is certain — the next chapter in the story of World Expos will mark a historic moment for the Arab world. 


UN updates named death toll for Syria war

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 7 sec ago

UN updates named death toll for Syria war

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • OHCHR included only fatalities identifiable by a full name, with a place of death and an established date, from March 2011 to March 2021

GENEVA: The war in Syria has killed 350,209 fully identified individuals, according to a new count published Friday by the United Nations, which warned the real total of deaths would be far higher.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) included only fatalities identifiable by a full name, with a place of death and an established date, from March 2011 to March 2021.

“We assess this figure of 350,209 as statistically sound, based as it is on rigorous work,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council.

“It is not — and should not be seen as — a complete number of conflict-related killings in Syria during this period.

“It indicates a minimum verifiable number, and is certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the benchmark for counting victims of the conflict, published a report on June 1 raising the death toll to 494,438 since the start of the violent crackdown on anti-regime protests in 2011.

The Observatory revised up by 105,000 its previous death toll from March 2021, following months of investigation based on documents and sources on the ground.

UN rights chief Bachelet said more than one in 13 victims on the OHCHR count was a woman — 27,727 — while almost one in every 13 was a child — 27,126.

She said the greatest number of documented fatalities was in the Aleppo governorate, with 51,731 named individuals killed.

Other locations with heavy death tolls were Rural Damascus (47,483), Homs (40,986), Idlib (33,271), Hama (31,993) and Tartus (31,369).

Bachelet said OHCHR had received records with partial information which could not go into the analysis but nonetheless indicated a wider number of killings that were not yet fully documented.

“Tragically, there are also many other victims who left behind no witnesses or documentation,” she said.

OHCHR has begun processing information on those alleged to have caused a number of deaths, together with the civilian and non-civilian status of victims, and the cause of death by types of weaponry.

“Documenting the identity of and circumstances in which people have died is key to the effective realisation of a range of fundamental human rights — to know the truth, to seek accountability, and to pursue effective remedies,” said Bachelet.

The former Chilean president said the Syrian people's daily lives "remain scarred by unimaginable suffering... and there is still no end to the violence they endure.”

Bachelet said the count would ensure those killed were not forgotten.

“Behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights,” she said.


Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed
Updated 1 min 42 sec ago

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

Lebanon president tells UN big challenges await government, help needed

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun told the United Nations General Assembly on Friday that big challenges awaited his country’s new government and asked the international community for funding to revive its crisis-stricken economy.
“We are relying on the international community to fund vital projects, whether in the public or private sector, in order to revive the economic cycle and create new job opportunities,” Aoun told the gathering via a recorded video message.
Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis that the World Bank has called one of the deepest depressions of modern history.
After a year of political deadlock which has compounded the economic meltdown, a new government was formed this month headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
“With the formation of the new government...Lebanon has entered a new phase that we seek to turn into a promising step on the road to resurgence,” Aoun said.
Mikati has promised to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and to pursue the reforms seen as a necessary pre-requisite for foreign aid to flow in.
Lebanon’s talks with the IMF broke down last summer after a financial recovery plan proposed by the previous government was resisted by many of the country’s top politicians and bankers.
“Lebanon, that is stubbornly trying to pave its way toward recovery, is relying on international support to achieve its goals,” Aoun said.


Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms
Updated 50 min 4 sec ago

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms

Macron urges new Lebanese PM to undertake ‘urgent’ reforms
  • Reforms should include improving public finances, reducing corruption, improving public finances: Macron
  • Mikati vowed to respect the country’s political timetable and hold general elections next year

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday urged the new Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati to undertake “urgent” reforms to help his crisis-wracked country, as the two men met for the first time in Paris.
After repeating previous criticism of Lebanon’s political class, Macron told Mikati it was “urgent to implement measures and essential reforms” and that Lebanon “could count on” former colonial power France for support.
The reforms should include tackling power and other infrastructure problems, improving public finances, reducing corruption, and stabilising the banking system, he said.
Mikati said he had come to the French capital to reassure Macron that he and his new government, approved by the Lebanese parliament on Monday, were committed to reforming.
“I expressed my determination to implement ... the necessary reforms as soon as possible in order to restore confidence, to give hope and reduce the suffering of the Lebanese population,” he said.
He also vowed to respect the country’s political timetable and hold general elections next year.
The billionaire’s nomination has brought an end to 13 months of political deadlock since an August 2020 blast that killed at least 214 people and devastated swathes of the capital Beirut.
An economic meltdown since then has depleted central bank reserves, devalued the currency by more than 90 percent and plunged three out of four citizens below the poverty line, while those who can are emigrating by the thousands.
France has led the international response to the tragedy, organizing three international conferences devoted to Lebanon and delivering aid in exchange for promises of political reform and accountability.
Macron traveled to Lebanon two days after the blast, and returned for a second trip.
The 43-year-old French leader has repeatedly expressed exasperation over the failure of Lebanon’s leaders to end the political crisis and tackle the economic emergency.
“It’s a secret for nobody that the negotations took too long while the living conditions of Lebanese people were getting worse,” Macron said on Friday.
Speaking next to Mikati on the steps of the Elysee Palace, he said that the Lebanese population had “a right to know the truth” about the August 2020 blast in Beirut.
One of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history, the explosion was caused by a vast stock of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had sat for years in a port warehouse, a stone’s throw from residential districts.


Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date
Updated 35 min 18 sec ago

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date

Iran says nuclear talks to resume ‘very soon,’ gives no date
  • Senior US official this week made clear Washington's frustration with Tehran over the absence of any "positive indication" it is prepared to return to the talks
  • European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran

NEW YORK: Iran will return to negotiations on resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal "very soon," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters on Friday.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will return to the table of negotiations. We are reviewing the Vienna negotiations files currently and, very soon, Iran’s negotiations with the 'four plus one' countries will recommence," Amirabdollahian said.
He was referring to talks that began in April between Iran and the five other nations still in the 2015 deal - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran, which has refused to negotiate directly with US officials.
Under the deal Iran curbed its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Then-US President Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, crippling Iran's economy and prompting Iran to take steps to violate its nuclear limits.


Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability
Updated 24 September 2021

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability
  • Mohammed Al-Menfi revealed that security, military, and economic issues would top the agenda of the meeting that would also shore up support for the upcoming national elections

WASHINGTON: The chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya on Thursday said he would be staging an international conference next month to gain backing for efforts to bring stability and security to the country.

Mohammed Al-Menfi revealed that security, military, and economic issues would top the agenda of the meeting that would also shore up support for the upcoming national elections.

Al-Menfi, who is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, added that the conference would host Libyan groups eager for reconciliation along with regional and international parties to push for the stability and security that has eluded Libya since the 2011 fall of Muammar Qaddafi who ruled the country for 40 years.

The Libyan leader said despite working on reconciliation efforts among Libyan groups, challenges still lay ahead on the road to achieving democracy.

He noted that Libya had made “significant strides” in implementing solutions that were mandated through agreements between the different Libyan groups and UN resolutions.

However, despite the progress, Al-Menfi pointed out that the country was still “faced with serious challenges and fast-paced developments” that could stall the ongoing political process.

On the ground, Libya remains confronted by many daunting challenges toward achieving political unity among its entrenched warring parties. Conflict still persists between the Tripoli-based Presidential Council and Gen. Khalifa Haftar who controls the eastern half of the country as well as the Libyan armed forces.

A transitional government was formed earlier this year to move the country forward toward elections on Dec. 24.

“Libya has the choice to either succeed toward becoming a democracy through free and transparent elections or go back to square one of infighting and military conflict,” Al-Menfi said.

He called on the international community to assist Libya in removing foreign militaries and mercenaries from the country as a way to build a “conducive environment for safe and transparent elections.”

Al-Menfi also demanded that European countries share their responsibilities in addressing the issue of illegal African migrants who pass through Libya on the way north to Europe, adding that his country had carried the burden alone and deserved support from the international community.

On the issues of human rights abuses that plagued Libya during its decade-long civil war, and the presence of terrorist groups on Libyan soil, he said his government was committed to safeguarding the human rights of the Libyan people and had worked toward bringing meaningful reconciliation through detainees and prisoners exchange, reparation, and addressing the fate of missing people.

Al-Menfi reiterated Libyan support for the Palestinian people and said his country was committed to the establishment of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.