Poetry and oration have been an integral part of Arab culture ever since the pre-Islamic Okadh Market gatherings, evolving through the centuries into today’s cultural salons. The concept of cultural salons expanded into modern cultural forums, which went far beyond traditional approaches to producing a modern cultural discourse. Cultural forums had a strong presence in the Arab World by the end of the 20th century, and in 2017 the Qatari Forum for Authors was established following proposals presented by cultural leaders and writers at a meeting during the 27th Doha International Book Fair. The Forum was formalized in 2018 as a cultural organization that is part of the Ministry of Culture. The Forum’s mission is to support authors and the production of knowledge and to offer an open space for freely exchanging ideas, promoting cultural mobility, shaping the future through creative writing, and incurring positive change, all while maintaining objectivity and fairness.
The Qatari Forum for Authors is in its fourth year since its inception. During that time, it faced numerous challenges, but it continued to develop at a fast pace. Today, many questions seek answers: Has the Forum achieved its objectives? Is there a reason to have such a forum in the first place? What is the Forum expected to achieve despite all of these challenges? Does the Forum serve writers’ needs and ambitions?
A number of writers have supported the Forum since its early days because it has helped bring together as many writers as possible and spared no effort to promote their participation in its activities. These same authors wish that the Forum would focus more on the quality of cultural production than its quantity. They have also called on the Forum to have a clear vision for cultural activities.
In the paragraphs below, writers offer their views on how to further develop the Forum in ways that truly reflect their expectations and ambitions. By explicating their interpretations of the Forum’s objectives, writers offer the Forum’s leadership the opportunity to assess its objectives in light of its achievements. The purpose of these discussions is to ensure the effectiveness of the Forum’s efforts to promote and enrich the Qatari cultural milieu. These proposals take into consideration the development of the Forum, which went through three main stages. The first was the foundation stage, which predates the ministerial decision to formally establish the Forum as an official organization. This stage continued through the first three years of development. The second phase, which can be described as the growth period, was a developmental phase which involved expanding the Forum’s activities and its focus areas as stated in its foundational documents. The third stage is the maturation stage, in which the Forum has become a leader in its domain of activities and a main resource for writers in Qatar and abroad.
Maryam Al-Hammadi: We give everyone the opportunity and we support their initiatives.
Maryam Yassin Al-Hammadi, writer and Director of the Qatari Forum for Authors, explained that the forum views “author” as an overarching umbrella concept that encompasses the various definitions of authorship. The Forum focuses on two groups in particular: authors, defined as book writers, and the wider community’s knowledge producers, including image makers, drama producers, and media professionals. The Forum’s motto is “With intellect we flourish,” which reflects the need to open up and expand our horizons through engaging with intellectuals in Qatar and abroad. It is important for the Forum to have a clear working mechanism and to avoid replicating the activities of other organizations within the Ministry of Culture. The Forum’s definition of “author” also includes researchers at universities, educational institutions, and research centers. The Forum is committed to the publication of peer-reviewed academic research.
Regarding the criteria and standards for selecting the types of content the Forum focuses on, Al-Hammadi explained that the Forum functions on two main principles. The first principle is giving everyone the opportunity to produce literary and intellectual content. The second is providing logistical support for authors’ initiatives, such as organizing workshops and discussion sessions. The Forum’s objective is to maximize the diversity of literary and intellectual production. The Forum also organizes programs that help discover aspiring writers, promote community engagement, and reinforce openness to cultural diversity while preserving national identity.
When asked whether the Forum has succeeded in bringing together all Qatari writers as members, Al-Hammadi responded that the Forum has been quite successful in this regard. She added, “We even regularly receive membership requests from writers in other Arab countries and beyond. However, membership is limited to Qatari nationals and residents.” She stressed that the Forum invites all its members to all its events, including those who participated only once in the past, because the Forum is intended to be a space for interacting and exchanging ideas. She added that some events are replicated under different titles to maximize the opportunity for all members to participate. As for future plans, she commented that the Forum will shift from offering several small events to offering fewer larger-scale events and giving strategic projects priority.
In response to a question about the value of having the Forum, she said, “We leave the answer to this question to authors. They recognize that the Forum is the only organization in Qatar that is designed specifically to support them. Besides, the Forum is an executive apparatus of the Ministry of Culture, and it follows the Ministry’s strategies and directives.” She then summarized the Forum’s mission, which is to support writers, help them elevate their intellectual production, publish their works in books and periodicals, promote translation of distinguished works into other languages, contribute to the transfer of world heritage into the Arabic language, establish connections with Arab and international authors, writers’ unions, and associations, coordinate authors’ efforts, support literary talents, invigorate cultural mobility, coordinate the efforts of Qatari professional and cultural unions and associations toward national issues, promote traditional literature and culture, and fulfill other tasks assigned by the Ministry.
Dr. Ahmed Abdul Malik: The Forum needs a clear mission and a focus on quality rather than quantity.
Writer and novelist Dr. Ahmed Abdul Malik offered that his view of the Forum has not changed since its inception. For him, cultural activities and programs should be the domain of civil society organizations, such as writers’ associations. For a government organization to be tasked with cultural activities and programs is, in his view, an issue that should be reconsidered because the leadership at such an organization is made up of government officials, rather than creative writers with first-hand experience in cultural work.
He added, “My experience with the Forum proved my view to be accurate. For example, the Forum focuses on attracting youths with no experience in cultural work or literary production. At the same time, experienced writers are sidelined and discouraged from engaging in Forum activities, which is not necessarily true cultural mobility.” He further elaborated by saying, “I initially tried to engage with the Forum, but I soon realized that its programs focus on quantity rather than quality. This is because at the end of the year, the leadership officials are required to report the numbers of activities regardless of the quality of cultural products. This is a dangerous indication that does not serve the best interests of the country.” Dr. Abdul Malik wondered how many serious and experienced writers regularly participate in the Forum’s activities.
Abdul Malik emphasized that he attended several cultural events organized by the Forum, including some book launchings. He noticed that the discussions were rather superficial, formulaic, and replete with flattery without dealing in any depth with the discussion topic. This is why he decided to boycott these “promotional” activities. He also warned the Forum’s leadership that they have drifted away from their original goals because culture requires an unbiased and realistic approach to serving culture and those interested in it. He concluded his remarks by sharing the view that the leadership of the Forum does not have a clear vision, and its programs do not meet the declared ambitions, because all of its activities are centered around one person, which is not acceptable in the fields of culture that rely on freedom and objectivity.
Mai Al-Nisf: We hope the events calendar would be announced in advance.
Writer Mai Al-Nisf was of the opinion that the Forum seeks to bring together all writers to create productive synergies among generations and ideas. She also believes that the Forum is expanding its activities to include book launchings, literary competitions, and discussion forums. “There are many writers who try to turn their ideas and aspirations into reality, and they see the Forum as a means to achieving these objectives,” she said.
Al-Nisf expressed her wish that the Forum would announce the calendar of its events and activities in advance so that more members can participate. “Everyone tries their best to be a productive member of the community and share their knowledge. Our country deserves the best its youths can produce,” she added.
Suhayla Al-Qaed: Writers need the support of publishers.
Writer Suhayla Al-Qaed started her comments by thanking the Ministry of Culture for its efforts to establish a cultural forum that brings together all aspiring writers and give them the opportunity to share their views and works. These efforts make it possible for young writers to exchange experience with Qatari and international writers, which has a positive impact on their cultural and literary production and grants them access to the different cultures. She sees the Forum as an integral part of a rich environment with diverse cultural activities and events that inspire writers and help fulfill their ambitions.
Al-Qaed added that writers need support in publishing and distribution. They also need support to hone their literary skills through interaction with experienced writers who can help raise the ceiling of expectations, familiarize new writers with strategies to impact readers, and liberate literary ambitions away from imitation.
Dr. Abdullah Faraj: I hope to see a TV channel that covers all Forum activities and events.
Academic and media professional Dr. Abdullah Faraj Al-Marzouqi started his comments by thanking His Excellency Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Hamad Al Thani, Minister of Culture, for his support of culture and his cultural leadership in the interest of the public good. He emphasized that culture is a board concept, as culture can be political, nationalist, religious, and professional, and it can also be related to writing, sports, and the theater. He expressed the view that culture can be global, and that Qatar is a leading producer of global culture.
He argued that Qatar is now a mecca for intellectuals and scientists thanks to is cultural innovation and mobility. He expressed his hopes that the leadership of the Qatari Forum for Authors would accept the constructive criticism they might hear. “We are all together as members of one community, and our goal is to offer critique rather than criticism,” he said. He then added, “In light of the unprecedented development across the world, Qatar included, I hope the Ministry of Culture would maintain its leadership in expanding its efforts to support culture by establishing a TV network that focuses on global culture. Culture does not have a home country, and it does not recognize political borders.” He noted that he was quite impressed by the media coverage of the Doha International Book Fair and the activities organized by the Forum on Doha 360 YouTube channel.
Dr. Al-Marzouqi concluded his remarks by saying, “Everybody recognizes culture and media as two sides of the same coin. This is why I am fully confident that my comments will be received well by the leadership. This is because we fully trust their unlimited support for culture, media, and professionals in both fields. Our beloved country hosts numerous successful events each year. The Forum should engage with these activities, particularly those highly professionally organized events put together by Hamad Medical Corporation.”
Dr. Abdullah Faraj suggested the Forum’s events should take inspiration from the Doha cultural festivals that the National Council on Culture, Arts, and Heritage used to organize. These cultural festivals took place all over Doha, turning the streets into a rich source of Arab and international culture. He also stressed that the Forum needs a plan put together by multi-cultural experts. Intellectuals with such experiences, in his view, should not be sidelined, because their experiences with national and international cultural festivals can be put in the service of Qatari culture.
Saad Al-Bakir: The Forum succeeded in attracting writers, but it needs a roadmap.
Author Saad Abdul Rahman Al-Bakir recognized that the Forum has managed to attract and organize the contributions of many Qatari and resident writers. “We hope to see the Forum turn into an association that unifies Qatari writers to serve the cultural future of Qatar and express the concerns of the society,” he added.
Al-Bakir offered that the Ministry of Culture has successfully developed the organizational structure of the Forum in ways that solidified its credibility. He further stressed that no writers or academicians should be excluded from Forum activities, particularly university professors who should, in his view, be at the forefront.
Speaking of the Forum’s accomplishments, Al-Bakir stated, “We appreciate the successes of the Forum and realize that there is a long way ahead. However, the Forum needs a roadmap and a higher ceiling of ambitions. It can also benefit from publishing an information booklet that states its objectives, activities, and achievements. The Forum also needs a well-defined organizational hierarchy, a clearly defined work mechanism, and laws that regulate its work. This would establish a legal framework for the Forum’s activities and will ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate, especially that Qatar is rich in expertise that can be better utilized to serve the Forum’s mission.”
Hamad Al-Tamimi: The Forum is an important addition to the cultural milieu.
Author Hamad Al-Tamimi, Director of Youths Programs at the Qatar Forum for Authors, described establishing the Forum as an important addition to the Qatari cultural milieu. In his view, the Forum came about as a response to writers’ need for an organization that brings them together and unifies their efforts. “For years after its establishment, the Forum has shown impressive results in terms of the quantity and quality of new publications. In fact, the number of new books by young authors has doubled,” he added.
Al-Tamimi explained that one of the most important outcomes of the Forum’s activities is the growing interest among youths to write, which is a positive indication of the future of culture in Qatar. Moreover, based on critics’ reviews, there is a significant improvement in the quality of books written by young authors. Another achievement is the increased levels of communication among the Forum members through their private WhatsApp group. The Forum’s website, which was launched a few months ago, made it easier for readers, media professionals, and culture enthusiasts to communicate with authors. The Forum successfully organized several competitions that helped discover new young promising talents who, after receiving the support of the Forum, are now competing in the cultural arena.
He emphasized the importance of the rich and diverse events and activities offered by the Forum on a weekly basis. These opportunities enrich participants intellectually and reinforce the culture of criticism. Some of these events are free creative writing workshops given by some of the most prominent authors. The diversity of the Forum’s events and activities enable it to reach out to different interest groups. As a result, the Forum not only managed to attract many young aspiring writers, but also successfully engaged them in planning, as they regularly propose new initiatives and programs.
Al-Tamimi concluded his remarks by noting that the Forum has succeeded in responding to the expectations and ambitions of writers from various age groups and in different fields of creative writing. Those who are interested in international literature will find events and activities that fulfill their needs, and the same applies for those who focus on local literature. The Forum also helps aspiring writers engage with the most prominent authors in Qatar to learn from their experiences. The Forum is constantly engaged in decision making regarding developing major cultural programs, events, and projects that help enrich the cultural milieu. In short, the Forum is the training grounds for new writers with promising futures in Qatar, the Gulf Region, and the Arab World.