Monday, 5 January 2015

On Ashraf Fayadh

Palestinian poet, curator, writer and artist Ashraf Fayadh has been jailed in Saudi for the past year without trail over blasphemy charges in his latest collection of poems "Instructions Within" and for having "long hair". It seems someone submitted a complaint in 2013 to the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice which detained him over a year ago. He has yet to face trial.

I translate a part of his poem "Asylum" from his book "Instructions Within":

Asylum: To stand at the end of a queue..

To be given a morsel of bread.

To stand!: Something your grandfather used to do.. Without knowing the reason why.

The Morsel?: You.

The homeland: A card to put in your wallet.

Money: Papers that carry images of Leaders.

The Photo: Your substitution pending your Return.

And the Return: A mythological creature ... from your grandmother's tales.

End of First Lesson

اللجوء: أن تقف في آخر الصف..

كي تحصل على كسرة وطن.

الوقوف: شيء كان يفعله جدك.. دون معرفة السبب!

والكسرة: أنت.

الوطن: بطاقة توضع في محفظة النقود.

النقود: أوراق ترسم عليها صور الزعماء.

الصورة: تنوب عنك ريثما تعود.

والعودة: كائن أسطوري.. ورد في حكايات الجدة.

انتهى الدرس الأول.

1- Arabic report from London based Al Arab: Text

2- Interview with his father for France 24: Video

3- Interview with Ashraf Fayadh on curating Jeddah art show Video

4- Global Voices report on detention (English) Text

5- Catalogue of exhibition Ashraf Fayyadh co-curated as "first official Saudi collateral event" at the 55th Venice biennale in 2013 English PDF

6- In February 2014 100 Arab intellectuals signed a petition for his release

7- Arabic poem "Frida Kahlo's Moustache"

8- Report in VICE: The Saudi Arabian Artist in Jail For Having Long Hair

9- Op Ed on his arrest in Al Ittihad (UAE)

ht Mona Kareem

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Interested in theatre?

I take this opportunity to inform you of a dynamic theatrical initiative, Home Grown, launched by my friend Badr Jafar.
This philanthropic program is a joint collaboration between The Middle East Theatre Academy and Kevin Spacey Foundation. “Home Grown” is a rare opportunity for selected youths aged 18-25 from across the Middle East & North Africa to receive a two-week training course by a professional team of actors including the two-time Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey.
Message from Kevin SpaceyCLICK HERE

Video explaining “Home Grown”CLICK HERE

The program will take place in Sharjah between the 11th and 25th January 2015, and all participant costs (including flights and transportation) will be borne by the sponsors. The culmination of this program will be a theatrical production by its participants based on an important regional theme, performed in front of an audience on the evening of Sunday 25th of January.
All audition applications must be received online on by 15th December 2014 with further interviews to be conducted afterwards via Skype and where possible in person in the UAE.

Feel free to spread the word amongst your friends, family and peers, and visit their website and various social media sites listed below for further information.
Should you have any further questions, you may contact the Project Coordinator, Alicia White or submit your query online at the Middle East Theatre Academy.

* Email was sent to me from my friend Muna Al Gurg.

Monday, 28 July 2014

First article for CNN

The shifting soft power of the Arab world: "Perhaps no other city in the world, save for Hollywood, commands as much global soft power as Mecca."

Monday, 24 March 2014

Art Shows in Sharjah

Sharjah Art Foundation

(SAF Art Spaces)

(SAF Art Spaces)

(SAF Art Spaces)

(SAF Art Spaces)

(SAF Art Spaces)

(Bait Al Serkal, Arts Area, Al Shuweiheen)

Sharjah Art Museum

Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization

(Vatican comes to Sharjah)

Sharjah Calligraphy exhibition. Works by Saudi artist Abdullah Al Sanea

Barjeel Art Foundation

Maraya Art Centre 

Maraya Art Park (Al Majaz Waterfront)

Sharjah Expo

1001 Inventions’ exhibition which highlights a thousand years of scientific and cultural achievements during the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation.

Compiled by Suheyla Takesh & Sultan Al Qassemi 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Responses to Gulf Cities as new Arab Centres of Culture & Commerce article

A recent article I wrote argued that some of the cities of the Gulf were transforming into cultural capitals of the Arab world as the traditional capitals of Baghdad, Cairo, Beirut and Damascus continue to suffer from civil strife. The article generated a number of critiques (as well as dozens of replies under the article itself) that deserve to be highlighted.

1- Dr As'ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus wrote a blog entry arguing, "If anything, the impact of that Gulf oil and gas culture has been quite corrosive on the entire Arab world and its culture." 

A heated Twitter debate also took place between Dr As'ad and UAE Pol-Sci professor Dr Abdul Khaleq Abdullah (I don't know how to link to it) (See Update 3 for link)

2- The Arabic Literature (in English) blog writes "Why would Gulf authors develop their literature in Arabic when so many of the institutions of higher learning teach in English?"

3- Maysaloon, a pseudonym of a Syrian writer and blogger wrote in Syria Deeply: "You can keep your “culture” and your cardboard cut-out cities, your history and your glorious past, good luck to you. I don’t want any of that when human beings can’t even live in our countries with the most basic elements of the human dignity that is their right."

4- My favourite response came from my friend Abbas Al Lawati who wrote in Al Monitor "In contrast with the traditional Arab centers that exported literature, art, science and ideas to the world, there is little in these Gulf cities that can be considered organic. They have produced few if any literary giants, scientists, academics or innovators."

Abbas cites late Arab literary giant Abdul Rahman Munif's "Cities of Salt" (read it) and argued that "it is unlikely that (these Gulf cities) will become any more than (economic centres) if their refusal to indigenize continues". This is similar to an argument I made recently (to much criticism) for granting citizenship to some expats in the UAE.


1- Michael C. Dunn, the editor of The Middle East Journal has a blog entry on the article here where he says "the contrasts between the old capitals and the new, the old culture and the new, are going to be features of the Middle East over the coming generation." 

2- By what seems a cosmic coincidence New York University is holding a seminar titled "Shifting Centers of Cultural Capital in the Arab World". No date is given for it. The intro (ahem) resembles that of my own article. (via Saqer Al Marri)

3- Also check out this Reddit discussion on the article posted by Beefjerking who writes "I posted this because I was upset about Sultan AlQassemi (whom I'm not a fan of) whitewashing Gulf history and pretending like it didn't exist until his masters created it out of thin air. I didn't expect a Shami/Egyptian mutual masturbation session." (via Abbas Al Lawati)


1- Dubai based ITP, publishers of Arabian Business have featured the issue here in Arabic.


1- Bilal Ahmed, a writer and activist published a blog titled "Pimping the Persian Gulf" in which he argues "al-Qassemi is wrong, because his ideas about cities, and culture, are in the process of being exploded by the Arab Spring."

2- UAE Pol-Sci professor Dr Abdul Khaleq Abdulla published an article in support of my argument in Al Monitor. "The Gulf moment indicates that the Arab Gulf states are today the net exporter of soft influence as well as hard power" says Dr Abdul Khaleq. (Dr As'ad responds here)

3- Thanks to @peloneous who storified the heated debate between Dr As'ad Abu Khalil and Dr Abdul Khaleq which you can read here.

4- Predating my article is this one in Condé Nast Traveler by @SusanHack who shared it with me on roughly the same issue back in 2008. In it a UAE national is quoted as saying: "Why discuss the past?" he asks. "Cairo, Damascus—these are cities with thousand-year-old histories and cultures, but the people are tired and fed up. And where is the creativity? In Abu Dhabi, we're not just building museums and schools, we're building the future. What we are doing here brings hope."


1- Ursula Lindsey asks in The Arabist "(H)ow can cities without centers of their own become the centers of something bigger?"

2- Spanish translation of the Gulf cities article (via Nuria Tesón)


1- Asa Fitch of The Wall Street Journal featured the debate under "Culture Vs. Cultural Investment Stirs Debate in Oil-Rich Gulf"


1- Al Monitor featured the debate on the article as a headline story here.

2- @JoyceA321 wrote "Yet, the issue remains that unlike business and finance, culture is not simply a matter of tangible figures, statistics and pretty buildings"

3- Thabet Al Arabi of @Ikhras awarded me a "Shoe of the month" for the article saying "Alqassemi’s brand of Gulf chauvinism discards the Gulf’s role in the destruction of the culture of the Arabs his article insults"

4- Yasser Elsheshtawy writes, "Much of the criticism directed at the Khaliji city is that it lacks ingenuity, its population is transient, and that it only accommodates a service industry and is thus lacking the authenticity that its elder counterparts have. Such arguments would have been perfectly fine in the 20th century, but in the 21st century a new type of city is emerging — one that is globally connected, and forms part of a network of cities"


"‘But what are all of these people doing in those bland Gulf cities in the first place?’ shout the skeptics. ‘They flock to the money,’ they reply en masse. And to that I say – well, of course. How else did Cairo and Damascus and so many other cities around the world develop those unsightly layers of concrete urban sprawl but by urban migration?" - wrote Gaar Adams in Beacon (an interesting website for freelance journalists, check it out)


Thanassis Cambanis of the Boston Globe published an interesting report about the article here: Is Dubai the future of cities? A free version is accessible here.