Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, one of the Emirates’ most prominent bloggers and news commentators recieved the Muntadhar Zaidi Ikhras Shoe-of-the-Month Award for October, 2013. This award, named after the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Zaidi who became famous for throwing a shoe at former US President George W Bush, is discerned every month to “the House Arab or Muslim individual or organization whose behavior that month best exemplifies the behavior of what Malcolm X described, in the language of his own time, as the “house negro”.” (quote from the Ikhras.com website).
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is also an avid art collector and founder/director of the Barjeel Foundation in Sharjah, and he launched the Gulf Art Guide website in Amsterdam a year ago, so we are not impartial.
The reason that Sultan Sooud received the award is an article entitled “Thriving Gulf Cities Emerge as New Centers of the Arab World“. The title says it all. This is, coincidentally, the same hypothesis underlying the essay one can find on the pages of this website (see for example the last section of the conclusion, named ‘The Quest for a New Arab Identity‘). Here is an excerpt of Sultan Sooud’s article:
“Decades of underinvestment and full-blown civil wars have resulted in the historic Arab cities of North Africa and the Levant having poor and inadequate infrastructure, from archaic roads to outdated academic curricula and teaching methods. However, the traditional Arab capitals may be down now but they certainly aren’t out. These cities that dominated the Arab psyche for decades in the 20th century are rich in culture and human and natural resources. Nonetheless, if and when they begin the process of turning their fortunes around, they will encounter an Arab-world landscape dominated by the new, formidable Gulf cities that have set a standard that is hard to match not only regionally, but on a global scale.”
Qatar and UAE’s disastrous domestic and foreign policies are an affront to humanity. Alqassemi does not have the right to add insult to injury by claiming to ascend to the helm of Arab culture after having displaced its traditional leaders.
Sultan’s article prompted a vivid discussion in the blogosphere; a typical, well-formulated reaction can be found on the Angry Arab news service:
“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.”
It seems there may be a bit of nostalgia for the 20th century (notably the period between 1945 and 1967) in such reactions to Sultan’s statements. But the resentment of Arabs from the Levant and Mashreq towards the pre-eminent role the Gulf cities are playing in the Arab world today is telling, and if anything it serves to prove the points Sultan Sooud makes.