2022 Look Ahead: The cultural renaissance sweeping the Gulf region 

Special The explosion of artistic events in the region, such as the ‘Infinity des Lumieres’ exhibition in Dubai last June have been credited to the reforms in the Gulf. (AFP)
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The explosion of artistic events in the region, such as the ‘Infinity des Lumieres’ exhibition in Dubai last June have been credited to the reforms in the Gulf. (AFP)
Special Major cultural experiences in MENA countries have often been inspired by heritage and history, such as the ‘Rams Road’ opening ceremony (main) in Egypt that connected the ancient Luxor and Karnak temples. (AFP)
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Major cultural experiences in MENA countries have often been inspired by heritage and history, such as the ‘Rams Road’ opening ceremony (main) in Egypt that connected the ancient Luxor and Karnak temples. (AFP)
Special 2022 Look Ahead: The cultural renaissance sweeping the Gulf region 
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Special Lebanese sculpture Nayla Romanos Iliya's artwork entitled 'On the Other Side of Time' on permanent artwork display in front of St. Elias church Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP file)
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Lebanese sculpture Nayla Romanos Iliya's artwork entitled 'On the Other Side of Time' on permanent artwork display in front of St. Elias church Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP file)
Special The region has also welcomed the world’s favorite sports, with Formula One making its Saudi debut last month. (AFP)
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The region has also welcomed the world’s favorite sports, with Formula One making its Saudi debut last month. (AFP)
Special Cultural events have also been central to Expo 2020 in Dubai, the world’s greatest show, where regional art forms such as calligraphy have been displayed. (AFP)
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Cultural events have also been central to Expo 2020 in Dubai, the world’s greatest show, where regional art forms such as calligraphy have been displayed. (AFP)
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Updated 03 January 2022

2022 Look Ahead: The cultural renaissance sweeping the Gulf region 

2022 Look Ahead: The cultural renaissance sweeping the Gulf region 
  • After decades of cultural aloofness, Saudi Arabia hosted scores of art, sport and entertainment events in 2021
  • Despite COVID-19 concerns, the Kingdom and the wider Gulf region are undergoing a cultural revolution

DUBAI: A century ago, as humanity emerged from the privations of the First World War and the Spanish flu, a wave of creative energy suddenly swept the globe. From London to New York and from Sydney to Tokyo, the decade known as the Roaring Twenties heralded an age of unprecedented cultural exuberance, prosperity and industrial advances.

New technologies, from automobiles to wireless radios, hit the consumer market, and a new zest for life, evident in such fields as music, art and interior design, replaced the drabness and conservatism of the pre-war age.

The phenomenon was viewed as a reflection of a pent-up desire to make up for lost time — a feeling perhaps best captured by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel, “The Great Gatsby.”

A century on, as the world takes its first tentative steps out of the gloom and turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are already drawing parallels between this romanticized period of cultural, economic and technological hyperactivity and the somewhat delayed promise of the 2020s.




The Saudi House had been showcasing Saudi cultural heritage to various audiences. (SPA)

The rollout of vaccines and falling rates of infection in mid-2021 allowed governments to ease lockdown measures and for world travel to resume. That is, until omicron emerged.

The emergence of yet another highly transmissible variant of the virus in November has shown that the pandemic is not yet over.

Far from roaring into 2022, many nations have once again opted to impose new restrictions, closures and postponements at museums, galleries, leisure facilities and performances venues.

How the latest wave of restrictions impacts the ambitions of the Gulf states remains to be seen.

Take Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has been experiencing nothing short of a cultural revolution. After decades of self-imposed isolation, it hosted scores of “first-time” events in the arts, culture, sports and entertainment industries in 2021.

The words “game-changing” and “historic” could be heard on many lips during the month of December as the Kingdom hosted the inaugural Diriyah International Art Biennale, the first Philosophy Conference, the Red Sea International Film Festival and the first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.




The region has also welcomed the world’s favorite sports, with Formula One making its Saudi debut last month. (AFP)

“The change has happened so fast. We are exhausted but so excited and inspired,” one Saudi artist taking part in the Misk Art Institute’s Masaha Residency told Arab News.

The cultural explosion has a lot to do with the Kingdom’s commitment to expanding new and exciting aspects of its economy under the Vision 2030 reform agenda.

The Saudi Ministry of Culture was established just three years ago. Since then, with the launch of the National Culture Strategy and 11 sector-specific commissions, the Kingdom has created a vibrant cultural ecosystem.

Since early December, the Kingdom has presented “a true cultural spectacle of more than 100 events, initiatives and engagements,” according to the Saudi Ministry of Culture.




Taif Season consists of more than 70 events in areas including Souq Okaz, Sadat Al-Beed and Ward Village. (SPA file photo)

The spectacle included the return of Desert X — an exhibition of monumental artworks displayed among the ancient ruins and desert landscape of AlUla.

More recently, the Saudi government announced a new $20 billion master plan to create “a world-class destination” called New Jeddah Downtown in the heart of the Kingdom’s historic Red Sea port city, which will include a museum and an opera house.

FASTFACTS

No plans to postpone major art events in KSA and UAE.

Saudi Arabia hosted a record number of cultural events in 2021.

Dubai aims to become a global creative economy by 2025.

“Change has always been a constant in social development,” Ashraf Fagih, head of programming at Ithra, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, which opened in Dhahran in 2017, told Arab News.




The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, of Ithra, in Dhahran. (Supplied)

“Vision 2030 propelled us ahead, opening the doors to the Kingdom’s cultural renaissance, and the pandemic ensured that we were dynamic, resourceful and creative enough to see this change through, together as a thriving society.

“As an economic enabler, cultural catalyst and global gateway, we at Ithra were at a crucial point in bringing Saudi’s cultural scene forward to the rest of the world prior to the pandemic, which was backed by the unwavering efforts and unlimited talent pool of creatives who made it come to life in the first place.

“To ensure it would not lose that momentum, we put our creativity to the test and pulled together to ensure we safely delivered this mission at a time of remote connectivity — united.”

Indeed, unity has been essential to the survival of the creative industries through the darkness of the pandemic, as the ban on exhibitions and performances undermined opportunities for artists and performers to work and grow.

“The horrors of COVID-19 have drawn together the cultural community,” Alia Al-Senussi, a noted art patron, consultant and scholar who has worked closely with cultural organizations in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.




Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah has been named the capital of Arab culture for 2030. (@MOCSaudi)

“There has been this hope that we are getting through this dark period through all these wonderful shows in Europe, art fairs such as Art Basel and the recent Diriyah Biennale. But we can’t forget all the suffering that is still taking place. In 2022, there is a hope in embracing that sense of community through cultural enterprise.”

The same cultural vitality is on show in the UAE. In Dubai, open borders, high vaccination rates, widely available testing, and new visa schemes designed to encourage expatriate entrepreneurs have lured thousands of talented individuals and investors.

In spring 2021, the city staged Art Dubai, the world’s first major in-person fair since the easing of lockdown restrictions. Even as omicron takes hold, there are no plans to cancel forthcoming events in the cultural calendar.




The explosion of artistic events in the region, such as the ‘Infinity des Lumieres’ exhibition in Dubai last June have been credited to the reforms in the Gulf. (AFP)

“Yes, COVID-19 hit Dubai hard like everywhere else, but the way the government handled it, including leading the world in vaccinations, meant that the city was able to adapt and bounce back quickly,” Ben Floyd, CEO of Art Dubai, told Arab News.

Art Dubai was able to go ahead last year “because we could see that Dubai was attracting high-net-worth families and businesses from all over the world, and we had confidence that we could produce a successful event,” he said.

Will 2022 be any different? Floyd put it this way: “We have had more gallery applications than ever, and plan to further innovate our offer.

“We will be launching a new digital section in response to both the growing tech community here in Dubai and the increased interest in producing and collecting digital art and NFTs.”

November’s Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre, organized by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, saw unprecedented participation from 14 theater groups from across the nation.

Then, in early December, Dubai Culture and the Department of Economy and Tourism launched “Creatives Journey,” a new initiative targeting people in creative industries looking to launch their own businesses.




Shoppers and art lovers are now able view masterpieces projected onto walls and floors in an immersive experience at Dubai Mall in Dubai. (AFP file photo)

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi announced in June that it would invest $6 billion in cultural and creative industries on top of the $2.3 billion already pledged as part of its post-pandemic stimulus program.

On Dec. 29, Dubai Culture launched the first ever “Creative Dubai: Dubai’s Growing Cultural Industries” report, providing a comprehensive overview of the Emirati cultural sector and charting a roadmap for its growth.

According to the report, Dubai’s cultural and creative sector contributed about 4 percent to total economic output in 2019. The sector generated revenues of more than AED37 billion ($8.5 billion) that year and employed more than 108,000 people.

In fact, Dubai, which has more galleries than any other city in the Middle East and North Africa region and some of the fastest growing household spending on cultural activities, ranked among the 10 most influential cities in the world in the FutureBrand Country Index 2020.

That being said, the cultural renaissance sweeping the Gulf has been less evident elsewhere in the region, where the pandemic and resulting economic hardships have placed creative pursuits lower down the list of priorities.

Lebanon was once the region’s capital of art and culture. But with the onset of the 2019 financial crisis, the pandemic, political paralysis, energy shortages and the collective trauma of the Beirut port blast, day-to-day survival has taken precedence.




Lebanese sculpture Nayla Romanos Iliya's artwork entitled 'On the Other Side of Time' on permanent artwork display in front of St. Elias church Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP file) 

“The Beirut explosion was more powerful than COVID-19, and the country is collapsing at an incredible speed at all levels,” Saleh Barakat, a Lebanese gallerist, told Arab News. “Here you don’t have fuel, electricity or even water, because they can’t pump it. All we can do is go on.”

Even so, green shoots of cultural activity have somehow broken through the dense layers of despair.

“If you come to Beirut, you will be amazed at the quantity of exhibitions,” said Barakat. “It is not economic. It is the result of our desire to go on with life. This is how we fight.”

The decade may not be this century’s Roaring Twenties as imagined or perhaps hoped for, but the same impatient urge to move on from past upheavals, embrace new aesthetics and make up for lost time is plain to see.

____________

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq
Updated 12 August 2022

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq
  • It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border
  • The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday

BEIRUT: Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region transferred to the Iraqi government more than 600 relatives of Daesh group members who were detained at the notorious Al-Hol camp, a monitor said Friday.
It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border.
In the latest transfer, around “620 people, relatives of Daesh members, left Al-Hol,” coordinated between the camp administration and the Iraqi government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday, an official in the Kurdish administration told AFP.
Thousands of foreign extremists joined Daesh as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared by the group across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged the militants from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded displaced camps, of which Al-Hol is Syria’s largest.
More than 100 people, including many women, were murdered in Al-Hol over an 18-month period, the UN said in June, calling for camp residents to be returned home.
But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.
The first repatriation of Iraqi families from Al-Hol, involving around 300 people, took place in May last year.
Iraq should repatriate 500 families in total from Al-Hol this year, the official Iraqi New Agency announced on Wednesday.
In addition to the returned family members, the Iraqi government also received this week about 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters and leaders who were detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Observatory.
The SDF spearheaded the fight against Daesh in Syria with the support of the US-led coalition.
In early June, Iraq repatriated another 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters who were detained by Kurdish forces. They were among 3,500 Iraqis held in Syrian Kurdish prisons, a senior military official said at the time.
In April, a senior Iraqi security official said the Al-Hol camp is a security threat and should be dismantled.
It houses around 55,000 people, the UN reported in June.


Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force
Updated 12 August 2022

Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force

Sadr followers hold mass prayer outside Iraqi parliament in show of force
  • Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July
  • Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday

BAGHDAD: Thousands of followers of Moqtada Al-Sadr held a mass prayer outside parliament in Baghdad on Friday in a show of support for the powerful Shiite cleric who has called for Iraq’s judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of next week.
Supporters of the populist leader have occupied the Iraqi parliament since July after a 10-month political stalemate that followed elections last October. Sadr was the biggest winner but failed to form a government free of Iranian-backed parties.
He withdrew his lawmakers from parliament and is now preventing the chamber from electing a new government and is demanding early elections.
On Wednesday he said the judiciary must dissolve parliament by the end of next week. If not “the revolutionaries will take another stand,” he said without elaborating.
Outside parliament on Friday thousands of Sadr supporters gathered for prayer. Most were dressed in black to mark the Muslim month of Muharram and some wore white capes symbolizing burial shrouds and their willingness to die.
“You will not break Iraq as long as Sadr is here,” an imam told the crowd from a big red stage set up outside parliament. “There is no going back from this revolution ... and the people will not give up their demands.”
In the intense summer heat, men picked their way through the worshippers and sprayed them with cold water. Some carried portraits of Sadr and his father, also a prominent cleric, as well as Iraqi flags.
“We have revolted and there is no going back,” said Mohammed Elwan, 40, carrying a portrait of Sadr.
Hamid Hussain, a father of five, said: “I am here to call for an early election and make sure that all the corrupt faces are excluded from the upcoming elections...I became unemployed because of the corrupt parties.”
Sadr’s opponents also accuse him of corruption. They say his loyalists have run some of Iraq’s most corrupt and dysfunctional government departments.
Iran-aligned political groups were expected to hold their own demonstration later on Friday, the latest in a series of protest and counter-protest in recent days which have led to fears of unrest.
Sadr counts millions of Iraqis among his followers and has shown he can still stir up gatherings by hundreds of thousands of supporters, mostly working-class Shiite Muslims, if he needs to exert political pressure.
His father Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr was killed more than 20 years ago for his outspoken opposition Saddam Hussein. When Saddam was topped in a US-led invasion in 2003 Sadr began an insurgency against US troops.
His new foes, however, are fellow Shiite leaders and parties mostly aligned with Iran, as Sadr has positioned himself as a nationalist who rejects foreign interference. Those groups, like Sadr, are backed by heavily armed militias, but do not hold the same sway as he does over masses of fanatical followers.


UAE minister says youth are main tool for building sustainable future

UAE minister says youth are main tool for building sustainable future
Updated 12 August 2022

UAE minister says youth are main tool for building sustainable future

UAE minister says youth are main tool for building sustainable future

DUBAI: The UAE’s Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura bint Mohammed al-Kaabi, said investing in young people, and empowering them to make a contribution to their countries and communities is the foundation of a nation’s development.
“Youth are the real capital and the main tool in our growth journey to build a sustainable future. In order to prepare them for future leadership positions, it is imperative to include them in key decision-making roles today," she said in a statement on the occasion of the International Youth Day, marked annually on Aug. 12.
The UAE government, she said, is keen to hear the voices of young people and empower them to achieve their goals. 
The National Strategy for Cultural and Creative Industries is one of the strategies which enables the UAE to invest in young talent and “helps nurture creativity and harness their energy to work towards a sustainable future,” according to state news agency WAM. 
The UAE has also launched initiatives and found specialised organisations that cater to young people's needs. 
This includes establishing the Federal Youth Authority (FYA) which implements 35 youth initiatives through 15 creative youth hubs across the country to engage the young population in various sectors of society.
The minister also said that the UAE also focuses on young people from all over the world. 
“This is the reason why Arab youth have chosen the UAE, for 10 consecutive years, as the best country to live and work. It goes to show that the country's strategy in attracting and caring for creative youth and providing them with a conducive environment is bearing fruit and enhancing the capabilities of the country and youth alike,” she said.


Iran says EU proposal to revive nuclear deal could be ‘acceptable’

Iran says EU proposal to revive nuclear deal could be ‘acceptable’
Updated 12 August 2022

Iran says EU proposal to revive nuclear deal could be ‘acceptable’

Iran says EU proposal to revive nuclear deal could be ‘acceptable’
  • The EU earlier it had put forward “final” text following indirect talks between the US and Iranian officials in Vienna

DUBAI, Aug 12 : A European Union proposal to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “can be acceptable if it provides assurances” on Tehran’s key demands, the state news agency IRNA said on Friday, quoting a senior Iranian diplomat.
The EU said on Monday it had put forward a “final” text following four days of indirect talks between the US and Iranian officials in Vienna.
A senior EU official said no more changes could be made to the text, which has been under negotiation for 15 months. He said he expected a final decision from the parties within a “very, very few weeks.”
IRNA quoted the unidentified Iranian diplomat as saying Tehran was reviewing the proposal. “Proposals by the EU can be acceptable if they provide Iran with assurance on the issues of safeguards, sanctions and guarantees,” the diplomat said.
The Islamic Republic has sought to obtain guarantees that no future US president would renege on the deal if it were revived, as then-President Donald Trump did in 2018 and restored harsh US sanctions on Iran.
However, President Joe Biden cannot provide such ironclad assurances because the deal is a political understanding rather than a legally binding treaty.
Washington has said it is ready to quickly reach an agreement to revive the deal on the basis of the EU proposals.
Iranian officials said they would convey their “additional views and considerations” to the EU, which coordinates the talks, after consultations in Tehran.
The 2015 pact seemed near revival in March. But 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and the Biden administration in Vienna were thrown into disarray chiefly over Iran’s insistence that Washington remove its elite Revolutionary Guards Corps from the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.
Under the 2015 agreement, Iran curbed its disputed uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear weapons, in return for relief from US, EU and UN sanctions. Tehran says it wants nuclear power only for peaceful purposes.


UAE aid ship arrives in Somalia to deliver food and relief supplies

UAE aid ship arrives in Somalia to deliver food and relief supplies
Updated 12 August 2022

UAE aid ship arrives in Somalia to deliver food and relief supplies

UAE aid ship arrives in Somalia to deliver food and relief supplies
  • The number of Somalians facing crisis hunger levels is expected to rise from 5 million to more than 7 million in the coming months

DUBAI: A UAE aid ship has docked in Somalia’s Mogadishu port to deliver 1,000 tons of food and relief supplies for approximately 2.5 million residents affected by drought.

Somalia is currently experiencing a two-year historic dry spell, a situation not seen in more than 40 years, and up to one million people have been displaced as the drought ravaged crops and livestock.

The number of Somalians facing crisis hunger levels is expected to rise from 5 million to more than 7 million in the coming months, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.

The provision of relief aid comes from UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan’s earlier order for 35 million dirhams worth of urgent humanitarian aid be sent to families and those displaced in their areas and camps.

The aid reaffirms the UAE’s commitment to helping friendly countries and its efforts to develop its bilateral relations with Somalia, state news agency WAM earlier said.