Arab cultural summit likely to wade into controversy, intellectuals warn

January 28, 2010

Mohammad Jaber Al Ansari

A prominent Bahraini intellectual who believes that culture is the last line of defense for the survival of Arabs, has warned that holding an Arab cultural summit would be “a humiliation for Arab minds” if it did not result in concrete achievements.

“Honestly, if an Arab cultural summit is held merely to meet growing pressure from various quarters and issues pompous decisions that please the egos of intellectuals, but will remain dead letters, like the promises of common Arab market and joint defense, then it should not be held,” Dr Jaber Al Ansari wrote in the Bahraini daily Al Ayam. “Such a summit would be a humiliation for all participants, Arab leaders, intellectuals and the millions of Arabs who would be following the event. It would be a source of regrets rather than a reason for celebrations.”

Several Arab intellectuals have floated the idea of holding a cultural summit, alongside the principles of the Arab economic summit held last year in Kuwait.

Prince Khalid Al Faisal, the head of the Arab Thought Foundation, last October called at a gathering of Arab intellectuals in Beirut for holding an Arab cultural summit to discuss cultural and civilisational threats and challenges to the Arab nation.

“The summit should look into ways to addressing Western intellectuals and thinkers and into rectifying the negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in the Western media and literature,” Prince Khalid said.

The head of the Arab Thought Foundation this week told reporters after a meeting with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa in Cairo that the Arab League welcomed the idea and that the Foundation was helping with the application of the idea.

No date was fixed for the summit, but Prince Khalid and Mussa agreed on the need to hold a conference for Arab intellectuals to draft ideas, views and concepts that would be included in the summit agenda.

Arab intellectuals meeting in Libya in November also called for holding an Arab summit devoted exclusively to discussing cultural matters.

However, according to Al Ansari, the summit would be a “total failure” if the ground was not sufficiently prepared.

“Competent Arab cultural orgnisations with rich experiences should be actively involved and, very significantly, should coordinate their efforts to prepare for the summit. They should avoid the deadly competition between them and distance themselves from projecting the idea that Arab culture began when they were launched,” he said. “Good intentions alone do not serve the purpose and achieve nothing. Actions and deeds are needed.”

Writing in the London-based pan Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, Mshari Al Zaydi, doubted commitments from all Arab countries.

“Perhaps the call to institute an Arab Cultural Summit – something with which I personally agree is very important – is overly ambitious, particularly with regards to Arab countries that lack a genuine desire to promote and develop their culture and discuss their problems. This call also makes the assumption that Arab countries hold cultural issues in such a high regard that a summit should be held to discuss them,” he wrote.

“I do not believe that the Arab Cultural Summit, if held, will be more successful than the Arab Economic Summit, as intellectuals, by their very nature, seek to disagree, rather than agree. Arab League summits have not resulted in any progress on political or economic issues, and the Kuwait Economic Summit became a controversial political forum, and there is no guarantee that the same won’t happen with an Arab Cultural Summit.

“Therefore I believe that what Prince Khalid Al Faisal is doing in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, and what Sultan Al Owais is doing in the UAE, and what Mohammad Benaissa is doing in Morocco is far more beneficial than summits which may not achieve anything,” he wrote.




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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