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


Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process
Updated 25 sec ago

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process
  • Arab League representatives also discussed the Ukrainian war, food and energy
  • The meeting will prepare for the Arab summit to be held in Algeria in October

BEIRUT: Arab foreign ministers on Saturday pledged their support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process, following an Arab League meeting held in Beirut.

They said their presence in Lebanon amid its “significantly difficult” economic and political circumstances signaled that Arab countries supported stability and stood by the country’s negotiations with the IMF and the reform process.

Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: “We came to say that there’s a problem and you must seek to resolve it.”

He told a press conference that the meeting had discussed the preparations, timing, and attendees of the upcoming Arab League summit.

“We just held some discussions and exchanged views to be decided upon in the appropriate place. We also went over the Ukrainian war, food, energy, and the topic of Somalia, where millions of Somalis might be at risk of starvation.

“We also discussed the Palestinian cause amid the American-Israeli moves and how we react to these events. We did not agree on anything because they are mere discussions that we will not reveal.

“Everyone supports ending the pressure of Syrian refugees. The Lebanese state provides them with care but, when decisions similar to agreeing on their return to their country are taken, some specific circumstances should be present.”

He said there was a civil war going on in Syria and “huge” destruction.

“At least $500 million is needed to rehabilitate the Syrian infrastructure,” he added. “These are very complex issues that cannot be resolved with a simple decision. But the international community has the will to end the Syrian war and is still exerting pressure when it comes to the matter of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries.”

Lebanon, which was represented by caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, chaired the ministerial meeting.

Algeria will host the Arab League summit in early November after it was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Saturday’s meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, Algeria, the Comoro Islands, Sudan, Somalia, Palestine, the deputy foreign minister of Egypt, and the league’s permanent representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Djibouti, Iraq, Morocco, Oman, Libya, a representative from Mauritania, and the Bahraini ambassador to Syria.

The Arab ministerial delegation met Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who expressed the importance of regional relations in the “critical circumstances the Arab world is going through, the challenges it is facing, and that requires the utmost consultation and cooperation.”

He talked about the crises facing Lebanon and the burden of Syrian refugees in the country which, he said, was “no longer capable of handling this reality.”

“We seek to reach an agreement with the IMF. There’s an American mediation to demarcate the southern maritime borders of Lebanon,” he said, adding that Lebanon retained its water, oil, and gas resources.

Responding to media questions about revoking the suspension of Syria’s Arab League membership, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said: “We didn’t support its membership suspension because Syria is a founding member of the league. The Syrian foreign minister will visit Algeria and we will go over this point with a high sense of responsibility.”

The Arab ministerial delegation also met Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who said Lebanon was now requesting that its “Arab brothers come and get to the core of its suffering.”

He told his guests that the indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, with US mediation, to demarcate the maritime borders in preparation for gas extraction were advancing.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati met the delegations on Friday night.

He reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to implementing all the resolutions from the UN Security Council and the Arab League in a way that reinforced the dissociation policy toward any Arab dispute, extending the state’s sovereignty over all its territory, and preventing offense to any Arab state and threats to its security.

Aboul Gheit received a political letter from the Sovereign Front for Lebanon opposing Hezbollah and Iran’s role in Lebanon.

The letter demanded “the activation of Lebanon’s right to be free from the Iranian dominance that uses Lebanon and its territories as a platform to conduct hostilities, putting the country in danger and exposing it to attacks from all sides.”   

It highlighted “the persistence of illegal weaponry represented by Hezbollah’s organized armed militia, which receives support, orders, and funding from Iran.”


Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
Updated 59 min 17 sec ago

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
  • Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces
  • The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen will not begin discussing other issues with the Houthis under a UN-brokered truce until the militia accepts a proposal to open roads in Taiz, a government official has told Arab News.
Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces that would partially ease the Houthi siege on the city, with the aim of resolving stalled negotiations between the two sides.
The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege but accepted the proposal as long as other roads opened during subsequent rounds of talks.
But the Houthis rejected Grundberg’s proposal, dealing a blow to the talks and the truce that has by and large been holding since April 2.
“We will not accept discussing other issues or offer more concessions before they agree to the UN envoy’s proposal,” the Yemeni government official said anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters. “We have not received any invitation (from the UN envoy) to take part in a new round of discussion on the Taiz file.”
The Houthis alternatively proposed opening an old, rough road connecting Taiz with the countryside.
Taiz residents and local government officials told Arab News that the proposed road was narrow, unpaved, and had been abandoned for over six decades.
The head of the Houthi delegation to the talks, Yahiya Abdullah Al-Razami, said on Friday that the movement would unilaterally open the old road, claiming it had not pledged to open main roads in Taiz when it signed the truce.
“This is not true. The Houthis signed the elements of the truce that include Sanaa airport, Hodeidah port, and opening roads in Taiz,” the government official said.
The Yemeni army has accused the Houthis of breaking the truce more than 100 times last week in Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, Saada, Jouf, and Marib, and killing a soldier and wounding four more.
In Taiz, the army on Saturday said it had shot down a small explosives-rigged drone sent by the Houthis to government-controlled areas north of the city.
The Houthis have been laying siege to Taiz for the past seven years, having failed to take control of it due to resistance from government troops.
Yemeni and Western diplomats have criticized the Houthis for refusing to lift their siege and called on the movement to respond positively to peace efforts.
“The UN calls for access around Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz. The Houthis must find a way to compromise on the UN proposal so we can move forward to broader issues important to Yemenis,” US Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking told France 24 Arabic TV on Friday.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak warned that the Houthis’ unwillingness and delays in opening roads in Taiz would jeopardize the truce.
He said his government had accepted the UN proposal on Taiz as it was a test of the militia’s motivations for making peace and ending the war.
“Lifting the siege is one of the main elements of the truce. We affirm our keenness to respect the truce and treat it as a space of hope and a window for peace. But the continued intransigence of the Houthi militia threatens the truce very seriously,” he told Lebanon’s Annahar Al-Arabi news website.


UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament
Updated 02 July 2022

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament
  • The UN’s top Libya envoy Stephanie Williams says ‘riots and acts of vandalism’ were ‘totally unacceptable’
  • Libyan protesters say they will keep demonstrating until all the ruling elites quit power

CAIRO/TRIPOLI: A senior UN official for Libya on Saturday condemned the storming of the parliament’s headquarters by angry demonstrators as part of protests in several cities against the political class and deteriorating economic conditions.
Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the capital, Tripoli, and other Libyan cities on Friday, with many attacking and setting fire to government buildings, including the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
“The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, on Twitter.
Libyans, many impoverished after a decade of turmoil and sweltering in the soaring summer heat, have been enduring power cuts of up to 18 hours a day, fuel shortages, and crumbling services and infrastructure, even as their country sits atop Africa’s largest proven oil reserves.
In both the main eastern city of Benghazi — the cradle of the 2011 uprising — and the capital Tripoli, thousands took to the streets to chants of “We want the lights to work.”
Friday’s protests came a day after the leaders of the parliament and another legislative chamber based in Tripoli failed to reach an agreement on elections during UN-mediated talks in Geneva. The dispute now centers on the eligibility requirements for candidates, according to the UN.
Libya failed to hold elections in December, following challenges such as legal disputes, controversial presidential hopefuls and the presence of rogue militias and foreign fighters in the country.
The failure to hold the vote was a major below to international efforts to bring peace to the Mediterranean nation. It has opened a new chapter in its long-running political impasse, with two rival governments now claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.
The protesters, frustrated from years of chaos and division, have called for the removal of the current political class and elections to be held. They also rallied against dire economic conditions in the oil-rich nation, where prices have risen for fuel and bread and power outages are a regular occurrence.
There were fears that militias across the country could quash the protests as they did in 2020 demonstrations when they opened fire on people protesting dire economic conditions.
Sabadell Jose, the European Union envoy in Libya, called on protesters to “avoid any type of violence.” He said Friday’s demonstrations demonstrated that people want “change through elections and their voices should be heard.”
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
Libya’s energy sector, which during the Qaddafi era financed a generous welfare state, has also fallen victim to political divisions, with a wave of forced closures of oil facilities since April.
Supporters of the eastern-based administration have shut off the oil taps as leverage in their efforts to secure a transfer of power to Bashagha, whose attempt to take up office in Tripoli in May ended in a swift withdrawal.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation has announced losses of more than $3.5 billion from the closures and a drop in gas output, which has a knock-on effect on the power grid.
(With AP and AFP)


Palestinians to hand bullet that killed journalist to US for examination

Palestinians to hand bullet that killed journalist to US for examination
Updated 8 min 43 sec ago

Palestinians to hand bullet that killed journalist to US for examination

Palestinians to hand bullet that killed journalist to US for examination

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority will hand the bullet that killed prominent Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to US authorities for forensic examination, a Palestinian official said on Saturday.
Abu Akleh was killed on May 11 while was covering an Israeli military raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
After an investigation, the Palestinian Authority said she had been shot by an Israeli soldier in a “deliberate murder.”
Israel has denied the accusation and says it is continuing its own investigation. But it says it cannot determine whether she was shot accidentally by an Israeli soldier or by a Palestinian militant during an exchange of fire without examining the bullet to see if it matches an Israeli military gun.
“We agreed to transfer the bullet to the Americans for examination,” Akram Al-Khatib, General Prosecutor for the Palestinian Authority, told Reuters without providing further details.


UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan
Updated 02 July 2022

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan
  • The dispatched field hospital includes 75 beds and two operating rooms

The UAE has sent three planes of medical supplies, including a 1,000 square-meter-field hospital, to aid the injured of Afghanistan's earthquake that killed over 1,000 people and wounded scores more, Emirates new agency (WAM) reported on Saturday.
The dispatched hospital includes 75 beds and two operating rooms equipped with medical supplies and devices, the WAM statement read.
The planes also carried 16 metric tonnes of equipment and a medical team to operate the hospital and provide urgent medical services.
The UAE earlier established an air bridge to transport aid in the wake of the disaster.
The relief efforts come as Afghan authorities reported a shortage of food, shelter and medical supplies for the victims of the country’s deadliest earthquake in decades.

Last week, the country dispatched a plane carrying 30 tons of urgent food supplies to Afghanistan as aid continued to pour in from different parts of the world.