Saudi Arabia has embarked on a real cultural revolution, says Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 

Special Saudi Arabia has embarked on a real cultural revolution, says Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 
1 / 3
Saudi Arabia and France have partnered in developing the ancient city of AlUla in the Madinah region into a cultural and tourism center. (Supplied)
Special Saudi Arabia has embarked on a real cultural revolution, says Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 
2 / 3
Diriyah’s historic Al-Turaif district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an important tourist, cultural and educational destination in the world. (Supplied)
Special Saudi Arabia has embarked on a real cultural revolution, says Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 
3 / 3
Cinemas first returned to Saudi Arabia in 2018, decades after it was banned in the Kingdom. (AN file photo)
Short Url
Updated 29 July 2022

Saudi Arabia has embarked on a real cultural revolution, says Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 

Saudi Arabia has embarked on a real cultural revolution, says Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 
  • There has been a radical change brought about by the impetus of the crown prince in all areas of culture, Lang tells Arab News
  • Crown prince’s Paris visit will open up new possibilities in bilateral relations and consolidate ties, says former minister of culture 

PARIS: Jack Lang is one of the prominent cultural public personalities in France. He was minister of culture from 1981 until 1986, and again from 1988 until 1993. He was also minister of national education from 1992 to 1993, and from 2000 to 2002.

Lang has been deeply connected with Arab culture by virtue of his presidency of the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA), or the Arab World Institute, in Paris since 2013. Under his leadership, the Arab World Institute, founded in Paris in 1980, has organized cultural workshops, concerts, conferences, exhibitions, festivals and activities both in France and around the Arab world.

The IMA has a museum, library and auditorium, and seeks to provide a secular location for the promotion of Arab civilization, art, knowledge and aesthetics as well as the teaching of Arabic. It was founded in 1980 by 18 Arab countries and France to research information about the Arab world, including its cultural and spiritual values.

Q. What is your perception of Franco-Saudi cooperation?

A. First of all, I welcome the visit of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince to Paris. This is an important event, which will certainly open up new possibilities in bilateral relations and will consolidate the political, economic, strategic and cultural ties between France and Saudi Arabia.

I am not directly linked to political life, so I do not have to comment on related issues. I know that there are differences that may arise; these are discussions that will undoubtedly take place between the leaders of the two countries, President Emmanuel Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

For my part, I cannot forget that historically, the two founding countries of the IMA were Saudi Arabia, at the time of King Khalid, and France, with President Valery Giscard d’Estaing.




France's former culture minister Jack Lang. (Supplied)
​​​​​​

Q. What about Franco-Saudi cooperation in the context of cultural projects?

A. Saudi Arabia is a fabulous country that is developing many ambitious projects like the AlUla project, initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud, the Saudi minister of culture, and supported by France via the French agency in charge of the development plan for this site.

Personally, I belong to the advisory committee, operating under the authority of Prince Badr. The committee does exceptional work for the preservation of the site, its history and the beauty of these incredible places. Every time I go to AlUla, I am struck by the progress of archaeological, touristic, economic and social projects.

I am also impressed by the respect that AlUla officials have for the history of the sites and the local populations, who are fully associated with the project, which is indicative of the ambition the Kingdom sets for its cultural revolution.

In France, in Europe, and more generally in the West, we do not know enough about the extent to which Saudi Arabia is starting a real cultural revolution. If we compare the situation five years ago with that of today, we see a radical change brought about by the impetus of the crown prince in all areas of culture: Cinema, theater, museums, architecture and music.

There is a rather unique cultural breath and momentum in this country. I can cite the first Red Sea International Film Festival, organized in Jeddah last year, or the many exceptional projects scheduled in Riyadh, a city destined to become one of the greatest cultural capitals of the world.

It is the same for the other cities and regions of the country, which are experiencing this dynamic in all artistic and creative disciplines. What is being accomplished today in Saudi Arabia is astonishing and remarkable.

If the visit of the crown prince is an opportunity to make this happy and positive metamorphosis better known, it is wonderful. I can only rejoice in this extraordinary cultural effervescence which makes Saudi Arabia a major country in world culture.




Cinematic masterpieces and their creators flocked to Jeddah for the long-awaited Red Sea International Film Festival late last year. (AN photo)

Q. What is the place of youth in this “cultural revolution?”

A. This cultural, educational and scientific strategy mobilizes the youth, who represent the Saudi Arabia of tomorrow. Many young people recognize themselves through this new impetus. If we go today to Jeddah, Riyadh or elsewhere in the country, we see that a new cultural event takes place every week. It is kind of a permanent cultural revolution.

Personally, I am one of those people who thinks that each country must prioritize culture, youth, science and education. This is the choice made by the Saudi authorities to build the future of the country.

France, as a country committed for a long time to these issues, will find itself in full harmony with Saudi achievements.

Q. What about cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the IMA?

A. Since I have chaired the IMA, I have forged close relationships with the cultural leaders of the Kingdom. The crown prince has decided to provide financial support for the renovation of the mashrabiyas on the walls of the IMA building, designed by (French architect) Jean Nouvel.

We are discussing many projects, including the possible creation of an IMA in Riyadh and, above all, the possible support of Saudi Arabia for the renovation of the IMA museum, which is destined to become one of the most important museums of contemporary Arab art in the West.


UK PM front-runner Liz Truss slammed over civil service ‘antisemitism’ comments

UK PM front-runner Liz Truss slammed over civil service ‘antisemitism’ comments
Updated 12 August 2022

UK PM front-runner Liz Truss slammed over civil service ‘antisemitism’ comments

UK PM front-runner Liz Truss slammed over civil service ‘antisemitism’ comments
  • MP accuses service of having ‘woke culture’ in its approach to Jewish community
  • But workers’ union chief says comments are ‘inflammatory, insulting and abhorrent’

LONDON: The front-runner to replace Boris Johnson as UK prime minister has been criticized for voicing “inflammatory” comments about the British civil service’s approach to the Jewish community.

Liz Truss, the favorite to take over as Conservative Party leader and head of government, accused the civil service of having a “woke culture” that “strayed into antisemitism,” according to Sky News.

“Every organization has its culture, but it’s not fixed, it can be changed,” she said in a statement after speaking at a synagogue in Manchester.

“That’s what ministerial leadership is about. It’s about making sure that the policies we represent, the values we stand for, are reflected in what we do.

“I’ve been very clear with our officials about the positions we take on Israel, and that will continue if I become prime minister.”

The current foreign secretary has also been targeted after saying that setting up your own business was a “Jewish value.”

Following a show of support at the UN Human Rights Council for Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who she called “a good friend,” Truss told the Jewish Chronicle that not enough was being done to educate children and teachers about antisemitism and that university campuses must be “ridded” of the issue.

“So many Jewish values are Conservative values and British values too. For example, seeing the importance of family and always taking steps to protect the family unit, and the value of hard work and self-starting and setting up your own business,” she said.

“The British Jewish community is incredibly proud of this country and so are Conservatives.”

Her comments have been described as “inflammatory, insulting and abhorrent” by the FDA Union, which represents British civil servants.

Truss provided “no evidence for her accusation,” according to FDA general secretary Dave Penman, who said Truss’ comments went “further than the usual dog-whistle politics” of the ongoing Conservative leadership election.

“The Conservatives have been in government for more than 12 years now and for most of that time Liz Truss has been a minister,” he said. “So accusations of ‘civil service wokeism’ are a little ironic, given it’s essentially a criticism of their own leadership.”

He continued: “A prime minister is also minister for the civil service, and throwing around such unfounded inflammatory accusations illustrates a lack of leadership, the very thing that she claims to be demonstrating.”

Her remarks have also been criticized by the British Jewish community, including a Jewish Labour Party member of parliament.

Charlotte Nichols, an MP in the north of England, accused Truss of “using the Jewish community as spurious pretext for another baseless attack on the civil service.”

Fellow Labour MP, Sarah Owen, said on Twitter: “Using the serious issue of antisemitism in schools and universities to peddle your anti ‘woke’ war against civil servants is not the solution you think it is.

“Either you’re woke — simply alert to social injustice and inequality (including antisemitism) — or you're not.”


Afghan refugees in UK shun relocation to Scotland, Wales as hotel costs mount

Afghan refugees in UK shun relocation to Scotland, Wales as hotel costs mount
Updated 12 August 2022

Afghan refugees in UK shun relocation to Scotland, Wales as hotel costs mount

Afghan refugees in UK shun relocation to Scotland, Wales as hotel costs mount
  • Officials say language barrier, poor weather behind fear of life outside London

LONDON: Afghan refugees living in temporary accommodation in the UK are boycotting demands to relocate to Scotland and Wales due to their limited English language skills and concerns over poor weather, The Telegraph reported.

The UK is spending about $1.2 million a day on hotels to temporarily house almost 10,0000 Afghans who fled from their homeland in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Authorities have so far allocated permanent housing to about 7,000 refugees. 

However, officials are facing significant resistance from many Afghan families amid the relocation process. Common concerns include perceived language barriers and a belief that the climate outside southeast England is colder. Staff say that many of the refugees favor the capital, London, and believe stereotypes about life in the rest of the UK.  

Refugees Minister Lord Harrington called on local councils across the country to push harder in moving refugee families from temporary housing into permanent accommodation, warning in a letter that more than 2,000 properties were needed to house the remaining 10,000 Afghans, including more than 500 four-bedroom homes.

The UK Home Office said: “While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation.”

One Afghan refugee, who previously worked alongside the British Army, told the BBC: “I want to settle and integrate but how can I when we are living in a hotel for months and months? I can’t start my life properly.”

The man has shared a single hotel room with his wife and two children for almost one year.

He added: “I don’t blame her (for struggling) because I know the situation. She is in that room for one year with two kids. These are kids, and she is depressed, so things are not good.”


Drought officially declared in several parts of England

Drought officially declared in several parts of England
Updated 12 August 2022

Drought officially declared in several parts of England

Drought officially declared in several parts of England
  • The "drought trigger threshold had been met" in parts of southwestern, southern, central and eastern England
  • The Environment Agency on Friday published a report saying that England as a whole had its driest July since 1935

LONDON: The UK government on Friday officially declared a drought in several parts of England, following months of record low rainfall and unprecedented temperatures in recent weeks.
At a meeting of the National Drought Group, the government’s Environment Agency said the “drought trigger threshold had been met” in parts of southwestern, southern, central and eastern England.
Drought was last officially declared in England in 2018.
The Environment Agency on Friday published a report saying that England as a whole had its driest July since 1935.
The exceptional weather comes as France is also experiencing a record drought and battling huge wildfires.
The Met Office, the UK’s meteorological authority, said the period from January to June this year saw the least rainfall in England and Wales since 1976.
That summer saw the use of drastic measures such as roadside standpipes and water rationing.
The government statement said the move to drought status was based on factors such as rainfall, river flows and levels of groundwater and reservoirs and their impact on public water supply.
“We urge everyone to manage the amount of water they are using in this exceptionally dry period,” National Drought Group chair, Harvey Bradshaw, was quoted as saying.
The Environment Agency and water companies “will step up their actions to manage impacts” and press ahead with their published drought plans, including thinks like hosepipe bans.
It stressed that “essential supplies of water are safe.”
England and parts of Wales are severely parched and some water companies have already announced hosepipe bans.
The UK overall had 56 percent of its average rainfall for July. Every month of the year except February has been drier than average, according to the Met Office.
Satellite images from July released by NASA showed dried-up brown areas extending across most of southern England and up the northeastern coast.
The source of the River Thames has dried up, with the river now flowing from a point several miles downstream.
Meetings of the National Drought Group are convened by the government’s Environment Agency, which monitors water levels in rivers and ground water.
The group is made up of senior decision-makers from the government and water companies, along with other affected groups such as farmers.
The Met Office on Tuesday issued an amber warning over “extreme heat” in parts of England and Wales Thursday to Sunday, predicting possible impacts on health, transport and infrastructure.
Temperatures were expected to hit the mid-30s Celsius, peaking on Friday and the weekend, after which showers and thunderstorms were forecast.
Temperatures were not expected to hit the record levels seen in July when a temperature of 40.3 Celsius was recorded in Lincolnshire in northeastern England on July 20, during an unprecedented heatwave.
The National Climate Information Center said that such high temperatures in the UK were only possible due to human-induced climate change.


Germany suspends military operations in Mali

Germany suspends military operations in Mali
Updated 12 August 2022

Germany suspends military operations in Mali

Germany suspends military operations in Mali
  • The German move comes as Mali’s junta turned away from France and toward Russia in its fight against militancy

BERLIN: The German defense ministry said Friday it had suspended most of its operations in Mali after the local military-led government denied flyover rights to a UN peacekeeping mission.
“The Malian government has once again refused to give flyover rights to a flight planned today” for the rotation of personnel on the ground, a ministry spokesman said at a regular press conference.
In response, Germany had decided to “suspend until further notice the operations of our reconnaissance forces and CH-53 (helicopter) transport flights.”
“It is no longer possible to support the MINUSMA reconnaissance missions on an operational basis,” the spokesman said.
Without the new troops, who were set to “replace French forces” in the process of withdrawing, “security on site is not assured” as the “remaining forces must be kept ready for security operations.”
The flyover rights were refused despite assurances to the contrary from the Malian Defense Minister Sadio Camara in a call with his German counterpart Christine Lambrecht Thursday, the spokesman said.
“Camara’s actions tell a different story than his words,” Lambrecht said in a statement posted by her ministry on Twitter.
The German move comes as Mali’s junta turned away from France and toward Russia in its fight against militancy.
The long-running insurgency has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
The relationship between Bamako and Paris, its former colonial power and traditional ally, has deteriorated in recent months.
The arrival of Russian paramilitaries in the country on the invitation of the government was a key factor in France’s decision to pull its military forces out.
The withdrawal is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.


US, Indonesia, Australia hold drills amid China concerns

US, Indonesia, Australia hold drills amid China concerns
Updated 12 August 2022

US, Indonesia, Australia hold drills amid China concerns

US, Indonesia, Australia hold drills amid China concerns
  • More than 5,000 personnel from the US, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore are participating in this year’s exercises

BATURAJA, Indonesia: Soldiers from the US, Indonesia and Australia joined a live-fire drill on Friday, part of annual joint combat exercises on Sumatra island amid growing Chinese maritime activity in the Indo-Pacific region.
A total of more than 5,000 personnel from the US, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore are participating in this year’s exercises, making them the largest since they began in 2009.
The expanded drills are seen by China as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the US of building an Indo-Pacific alliance similar to NATO to limit China’s growing military and diplomatic influence in the region.
The United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Malaysia, South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and East Timor also sent observers to the exercises, which began early this month.
The US Indo-Pacific commander, Adm. John C. Aquilino Aquilino, said the 14 nations involved in the training are signaling their stronger ties as China grows increasingly assertive in claiming virtually the entire South China Sea and holds exercises threatening self-ruled Taiwan.
“The destabilizing actions by the People’s Republic of China as it applied to the threatening activities and actions against Taiwan is exactly what we are trying to avoid,” he said at a joint news conference with Indonesian military chief Gen. Andika Perkasa in Baturaja, a coastal town in South Sumatra province.
“We’ll continue to help deliver a free and open Indo-Pacific and be ready when we need to respond to any contingency,” Aquilino said.
Indonesia and China enjoy generally positive ties, but Jakarta has expressed concern about what it sees as Chinese encroachment in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Despite its official position as a non-claimant state in the contested South China Sea, Indonesia has been “dragged along” in the territorial dispute since 2010 after China claimed part of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the northern region of the Natuna Islands, said Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, a security analyst at the University of Indonesia.
The edge of the exclusive economic zone overlaps with Beijing’s unilaterally declared “nine-dash line” demarking its claims in the South China Sea.
Increased activities by Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats in the area have unnerved Jakarta, prompting Indonesia’s navy to conduct a large drill in July 2020 in waters around Natuna at the southern portion of the South China Sea.
Indonesia sees the current exercises with the US as a deterrent in defense of the Natuna Islands, while for Washington, the drills are part of efforts to forge a united front against China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, Bakrie said.
“Indonesia wants to send the message that it is fully prepared for any high-intensity conflict in the South China Sea area,” she said.
The joint combat exercises end Sunday.