Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Debate: The Gulf should do more to promote Arab culture | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55307741

Iraqi people celebrate after United Nations announced the end of sanctions imposed on Iraq, in Baghdad, June 27, 2013. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani.

If we take a closer look at the cultural scene in the Gulf, we will indeed find an unprecedented retreat in our government’s interest in cultural issues. The reason for this is certainly the tough and historic structural developments taking place on different levels in the Arab world within the framework of the so-called “Arab Spring.” It is natural that security and economic preoccupations would prevail over other priorities of the governments of the GCC member states, especially in the past two years.

But despite everything, we have also noticed restless official efforts and prompt endeavors, though somewhat modest, to consolidate Arab culture and emphasize its general civilized and developmental course towards strengthening the ever renewable Arab identity of our Gulf States. Cultural festivals, conferences, summits and several cultural initiatives—such as the ones aimed at consolidating the stature of the Arabic language, translation into Arabic undertaken by several government and non-government organizations, and the annual Arab Cultural Capital festivals—all are evidence of the awareness of governmental and non-governmental organizations of the need to give greater care to culture.

Indeed, we can notice a state of loss and negligence in determining priorities, and we can sense a lack of coordination between Gulf governments. Day after day, we can sense a retreat in the ability to confront these changes affecting our societies, especially from the younger generation. Perhaps such disorder and frustration is a direct result of the accumulated pressure and the failure in influencing others and maintaining Arab identity, particularly in view of the advancement in lifestyles and means of communication and transport. This all must have an immediate impact in terms of “changing” culture, and this must push us to act to confront the challenges and wars that are waged directly on Arab culture. This is not to deny the fact that the communication revolution and the expanding horizons of knowledge have contributed greatly to the interaction between cultures and nations.

In fact, some Gulf governments’ interest in culture has retreated as a result of the economic crisis suffered by these countries, especially in the wake of the 2008 collapse of the global financial market. Accordingly, addressing the subsequent economic and social problems became the chief concern of these governments, and so cultural projects were neglected.

One must not forget the outright hostility felt by some hardline religious trends that decline to adapt to the new changes influencing our culture. These trends reject anything enlightening and view with suspicion anything new. Such rejection and struggle have also contributed to the dispersion of the Arab culture and identity, whether on the individual or the governmental level. As a consequence, Arabs have become torn between total rejection and complete openness in maintaining an Arab culture and identity in the face of social challenges and the global impact.

As for Gulf governments that failed to keep pace with the ever-developing civilization that accompanied their vast oil wealth, their interest in culture was superficial. This is demonstrated by their building huge museums and buying world-famous paintings at astronomical prices, as well as promoting clamorous musical performances and bringing in international singers, as if culture was something to be bought and sold.

It is unfortunate that these governments shirk their responsibility towards their own culture as well as towards raising new generations, particularly since they are oil-producing countries and are not short of financial resources. It is not sufficient to sing the praise of the Arab Peninsula or of old Arab travelers and historians. Rather, the enormous energies of youth must be exploited, for they are more vulnerable to external influences like the prevalence of the English language, Western culture, Western media and satellite TV channels, films and music. There are also several domestic effects represented by the large numbers of foreign laborers and the domination of foreign companies, institutions, universities and schools that attract our sons, particularly from the young generation. This is not to mention that their school syllabuses and programs are not commensurate with our Arab culture and identity.

If it is true that the blame must be placed on decision-makers and officials, we all, whether individuals or groups, must also shoulder part of the responsibly of maintaining our culture. We must shoulder this responsibility, whether at home, where governesses are widespread in the Gulf, or at schools where foreign languages are used more commonly than our Arabic language, or at universities, as many Gulf students are studying abroad, or in the work milieu, where you can hardly hear anyone speaking Arabic.

At this stage and no matter how the situation may be in the future, we are of the view that the Gulf States’ governments should encourage teamwork, coordinate between one another to face such challenges, and prompt the private and educational sectors to participate in drawing up a unified strategy to back Arab culture.

Culture is the set of doctrines, values and rules that all members of the society share, something that distinguishes them and reflects their civilized stature, as well as expresses the intellectual culture of people and nations.

Culture is not a set of temporary or passing ideas or ready-made sciences and knowledge. Rather, it is accumulated expertise and continued endeavor over long periods of time. Thus, culture must be a spiritual and civilized authority that depicts the society’s manner of conduct. Culture is something that moves from one generation to the next through social upbringing, and it requires the participation of all members of society. The progress of countries and societies will not be achieved if culture is neglected, and no nation will be able to stand on its feet so long as it neglects its identity and uses a duplicate culture of other nations.