Yesterday evening, a seminar entitled The Gulf Cultural Scene: Challenges and Opportunities, was held at the 31st Doha International Book Fair. During the seminar, participants discussed the main challenges that cultural work in Gulf Cooperation Council countries faces, as well as ways to promote cultural cooperation at the community and state levels.
His Excellency Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Hamad Al Thani, Minister of Culture, was present at the seminar. Among the audience was Kuwaiti academic and publisher Dr. Ahmed Al-Haidar, professor of Media Studies. Dr. Nayif Al-Muhaylib, President of the Cultural and Literary Club in Hail, Saudi Arabia, and Dr. Saeed Al-Sayyabi, President of the Cultural Committee at the College of Arts and Social Sciences, Sultan Qaboos University, participated virtually.
The discussion, which was moderated by Qatari novelist and academic, Dr. Ahmed Abdul Malik, Professor of Media Studies at Qatar Community College, addressed some current pressing issues, such as the impact of COVID-19 on the cultural movement in the Gulf states, the role of the Gulf Cooperation Council in promoting cultural development, and the role of community cultural organizations, clubs, and Gulf as well as Arab publishers in enriching the Gulf cultural scene.
Dr. Ahmed Al-Haidar discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the cultural scene, as it has affected cultural events across the world and within the Gulf state. He added that he appreciates the will to hold the Doha International Book Fair while implementing social distancing and other precautionary measures. He described this decision as a bold move that reflects Qatar’s success in holding international events, such as the recent Arab FIFA Cup Championship, despite the pandemic. Dr. Al-Haidar emphasized that participating publishers and organizations are proud to be part of the fair, reflecting Qatar’s commitment to culture and the promotion of literacy in the community. He noted that different Gulf countries adopted different approaches to the pandemic, as some chose to cancel events, some relied on technology to replace face-to-face interaction, and some were determined to hold cultural events while adopting precautionary measures. He also talked about the role of publishers in supporting culture, enhancing the quality of cultural products, and targeting youths to attract a new generation of readers, referencing the experience of Platinum Publishing House, which he directs.
Dr. Saeed Al-Sayyabi agreed that the pandemic has significantly impacted cultural activities, but he focused in the positive aspects on this impact. For instance, the wide use of video conferencing technology led to increased participation in virtual lectures, seminars, and other events, including university events. He gave the example of the Omani Cultural Club whose activities increased as a result of the pandemic. He also drew the audience’s attention to the role of formal education in promoting culture. He suggested that legislation in the Gulf states needs to be more flexible to further promote cultural activities, and that intellectuals and cultural figures should be honored and rewarded so that they can become more recognizable role models. He concluded his remarks by reasserting the role of civil society organizations in promoting culture.
Dr. Nayif Al-Muhaylib focused on the impact of COVID-19 on cultural events in Saudi Arabia and how the Saudi authorities opted for continuing to hold cultural events while observing precautionary procedures. For instance, the Riyadh International Book Fair was held on schedule, and publishers received incentives to participate, thus leading to a successful fair. He also talked about the experience of the Cultural and Literary Club in Hail, whose directors chose to use alternatives to face-to-face events, such as sending books by mail. In his presentation, he touched on the role of cultural associations and literary clubs in promoting various aspects of the cultural scene in Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Al-Muhaylib further commented on Gulf culture in particular, emphasizing that intellectuals and writers in the GCC countries rely on the Al-Ula Summit agreement, which endorsed cultural collaboration in pursuit of achieving the Summit’s objectives. Although these objectives were met with some challenges, such as maintaining a balance between tradition and modernity, it is still possible, in his view, to reinvigorate collaborative cultural efforts through, for instance, establishing a Gulf values project, a Gulf culture museum, a Gulf book fair held in a different Gulf city each year with a different theme (e.g., women and children’s issues), and a Gulf publishing platform.
At the closing of the seminar, His Excellency Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Hamad Al Thani, Minister of Culture, awarded the speakers the Doha International Book Fair shield.
The Doha International Book Fair is organized by the Ministry of Culture represented by the Qatar Cultural and Heritage Events Center. This year’s theme for the fair is “Knowledge is Light.” Publishers from 37 countries are participating in the fair, which continues until January 22.