Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Gulf cities as the new centers of the Arab world?

So Sultan said:  "However, over the past few years, as these traditional Arab capitals became more embroiled in civil strife, a new set of cities started to emerge in the Gulf, establishing themselves as the new centers of the Arab world. Abu Dhabi, its sister emirates of Dubai and Sharjah and the Qatari capital, Doha, have developed as the nerve center of the contemporary Arab world’s culture, commerce, design, architecture, art and academia, attracting hundreds of thousands of Arab immigrants, including academics, businessmen, journalists, athletes, artists, entrepreneurs and medical professionals."  What contribution to Arab culture have those cities made, unless you are talking about sleaze, worship of the European, denigration of the Asians, promotion of singers purely based on breast sizes and lip thickness, prostitution mentality (literally and figuratively), gender segregation and repression, the culture of measuring humans by the size of their bank accounts, etc.  Culture, what culture? Cairo and Beirut were known for hosting a culture that allowed (often despite desires of the ruling governments) various political and cultural trends to co-exist and to clash, and for the expression of divergent political viewpoints.  Cairo and Beirut were cities that allowed artists and writers to seek refuge and to express themselves artistically and creatively, and there is none of that in the Gulf.  Yes, academics and journalists are flocking to the Gulf but what have they produced there? What ideas? They go there and they work as assistants and propagandists in the entourage for this prince or that prince.  If anything, the impact of that Gulf oil and gas culture has been quite corrosive on the entire Arab world and its culture.  In that sense alone, yes, Gulf cities do play a role.  But Sultan: to dare mention journalism? There is nothing to brag about in terms of the Gulf-based media whatsoever.  The Gulf has actually killed journalism in the Arab world.  Medical professionals? Yes, they go there and they treat wealthy princes, but there is no medical research to speak of there.  You then indirectly concede that point and ask your readers to forget about political regression and backwardness (as if it is a small matter) and say this:  "Abu Dhabi City, with its massive GDP of $248 billion that outweighs any other Arab country save Saudi Arabia, has embarked on a cultural renaissance program that includes opening campuses of world-class universities such as New York University, Paris’ prestigious Sorbonne and INSEAD, the top-10 global business school based in Fontainebleau. Abu Dhabi is busy constructing a Norman Foster-designed Zayed National Museum, a Louvre by Jean Nouvel, a Guggenheim by Frank Gehry, a maritime museum by Tadao Ando and a concert hall by Zaha Hadid. The city’s airport is home to the multiple-award-winning Etihad Airways and is undergoing a major expansion to be completed by 2017 that will add a total floor area exceeding that of the Pentagon and the capacity to service 40 million passengers. And it’s not just about oil. Abu Dhabi’s non-oil sector is estimated to have reached $107 billion in 2012, making up 43.5% of the economy of the emirate."  You can't be serious? You brag about the wealth from the oil sector (oh, you mention later that there is also revenue from non-oil sources, yes: it comes from prostitution, sex tourism, smuggling, money laundering, arms trade, etc).  And those satellite universities operate under standards that are well below the standards of the mother universities and they are only lured by the promises of more cash.  And you know that discussions in those classrooms are very restricted and you also know that professors have been fired for inviting a guest speaker who mildly mentioned democracy or freedom.  Come on.  Museums? Yes, they have the money to buy art work, big deal. But what about artistic production?  Furthermore, you really brag about sizes of airport and towers?  What does that add to culture?   You then brag about Dubai as a global city:  "Dubai, home to the world’s tallest tower, man-made islands and cutting-edge infrastructure, is today the embodiment of a global city with more than 200 nationalities and a constant stream of arriving immigrants." Yes, Dubai is a global city in the sense that it has no culture and no flavor and no imprint and those arriving immigrants live in a rigid hierarchy of wealth, power, race, ethnicity, and prestige.   Beirut and Cairo and Damascus all had a margin of freedom (even under Nasser in Cairo and even in Syria prior to the rule of the Ba`th) that allowed for the flourishing of literature, arts, and academic production.  None of that minimum condition is allowed in the Gulf.  Gulf cities do have an influence, but that influence is in fact antithetical to everything that Cairo and Beirut in their heydays ever stood for. (thanks Philip)

PS I should clarify one more time: when I thank someone at the end of a post it only means that this person sent me the link.  The comment and the post are mine, of course.