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.

2- BBC Arabic coverage of article in Arabic (check out the comments).


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.


I published a follow-up article on Gulf cities soft power on CNN: The shifting soft power of the Arab world


The New York Times new platform Voices asked me to curate articles on a topic so I picked The Rise of Gulf Cities.  I am also speaking at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities in June 2016. I pre-recorded this podcast for them.

No comments: