Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani Visits the National Museum of Qatar, and Sheikha al-Mayassa bin Hamad al-Thani Announces December 2018 Opening by Waleed Serhan

On 20 June 2017, two weeks into the crisis and siege imposed on Qatar, the National Museum of Qatar took central stage when His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani visited the site of the museum, and when Chairperson of Qatar Museums Her Highness Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani announced that the museum will open in December 2018. The Emir was taken on tour of the upcoming museum by HE Sheikha al-Mayassa and CEO and the Chairperson’s advisor Mansoor bin Ebrahim al-Mahmoud to gain an overview of the progress and various stages of the Museum’s development. The Emir emphasized the crucial role of the National Museum in supporting Qatar’s National Vision 2030 in terms of human development. On her part, HE Sheikha al-Mayassa emphasized the importance of the National Museum in instilling and reinforcing Qatari national identity when she stated that “The National Museum is the physical manifestation of Qatar’s proud identity, connecting the country’s history with its diverse and cosmopolitan present. It will reflect a part of every Qatari’s life, representing our roots and identity. The opening of the National Museum of Qatar will firmly position our country on the global map as a progressive, knowledge-based economy with a long and rich history and give Qatar a voice in the world”.

 

The Emir’s visit and Sheikha al_Mayassa’s announcement had an encouraging effect on both nationals and residents in Qatar who stressed though social media Qatar’s continual focus on its development and advancement regardless of the crisis. The National Museum of Qatar on its part announced that fifty tours of the museum will be organized and which commenced on 24 July 2017, the day that marks fifty days of siege. The tours, in Sheikha al-Mayassa’s words, aim to “enable you to appreciate the architectural gem of Jean Nouvel for one last time before we begin our interior installations. This is everyone’s last chance to experience the museum as an architectural artefact. We welcome all nationalities and residents”. Over half the allocated spots on the tours were booked within the first days of the announcement.

The opening of the Museum in December is intended to coincide with Qatar’s National Day also in December of every year, and with the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Museum of Islamic Art. The opening date reflects the National Museum’s central position in Qatar’s nation-building, as well as its role in globally positioning Qatar as a culture hub with its particular Qatari, Arab, and Islamic heritage which intersects with international trends and currents.

Qatar National Day 2016 at Darb Al Saai by Waleed Serhan

Darb Al Saai was a twelve-day event organized by the Qatari government to celebrate Qatari heritage, identity, and traditions. It took place from 8-20 December 2016 and was intended as one of the main celebrations and events held across the country for Qatar National Day. Dr Waleed Serhan attended the event on behalf of the National Museums and the Public Imagination research project and he has this report.

The day included multiple displays of Qatari heritage in a celebratory atmosphere ranging from cuisine, crafts, Arabic perfume, incense, to traditional dances such as the Aarda dance. It also included a celebration of Bedouin life with tents, Arabic coffee, falcons, camels, as well as a parade of Arabian Nights (Fursan) on the glorious Arabian horses. 

Governmental sections were represented, highlighting the work and services of various state ministries, including a two-way communication channel whereby school students could express their wishes and expectations to the state. Emphasis was placed on the media as a component of a healthy state-society relationship through tracing the history and development of newspapers in Qatar, with the participation of all newspapers present in the country. Universities, both national and international had their share in the event by targeting children and youth with interactive and educational games, readings corners, and healthy cooking. Both public and private schools heavily participated, and competed in traditional skills such as putting up a Bedouin tent and the Aarda dance.

The days were divided into a morning period mainly for school pupils, and an afternoon and evening period for adults as well as children and teenagers, with some dedicated women and family only sessions. Reflecting Qatar’s diverse society, the event was attended by Qataris and non-Qataris although attendance was predominantly by Qataris as National Day represents a particular source of joy and pride to them.

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While Darb Al Saai was the second most important event organized for the National Day celebrations, the event occupied a position of prominence this year once the main National Day parade celebrated on 18 December was cancelled due to the worrying political developments in Aleppo, Syria. As a result, National Day andQatari national identity had an additional dimension this year whereby Qatari, Arab, and Islamic values of solidarity with the weak, giving, and compassion were the highlight of 2016’s Qatar National Day. On National Day, over 250 million Qatari Riyals were raised through private donations in one evening at Darb Al Saai for the residents and displaced of Aleppo.

 

Conference - Identity within Qatar’s National Vision 2030: The impact of technology and social media on identity. by Waleed Serhan

14-15 November 2016, LOCATION: Sharq Village. Doha, Qatar.

Under the auspices of the Minister of Transportation and Communications his Highness Mr. Jassim Saif Ahmed Al Sultaiti, the Qatar Centre for Heritage and Identity organized a two-day conference on 14 and 15 November 2016 exploring the impact of technology and social media on national identity. The conference focused on issues and challenges of identity within a Qatari context through eight papers presented by Qatari academics. It also incorporated a regional and international perspective through the participation of academics from Oman, Turkey, Palestine, Hungary, and Bahrain. Dr Waleed Serhan attended this conference on behalf of the National Museums and the National Imagination research project and has this report.

The various speakers dealt with issues of identity within the wider framework of globalization, and more specifically how the global affects the Qatari local. Within this view, the presenters stressed that Qatari culture and identity is threated by global forces, especially under the free flow of information that Qatari youth are exposed to in comparison to the previous generations. While the majority of speakers acknowledged the inevitability of adapting to a post-modern world, the need to protect and promote Qatari culture and identity was reiterated. With the pervasiveness of social media among the youth and more than 2000 satellite television channels entering Qatari homes on a daily basis, the role of the family in protecting, preserving, and promoting Qatari identity, culture, and values was strongly emphasised. Despite this perceived sense of threat and danger engulfing Qatari, Arabic, and Islamic culture, the presenters reiterated the need to remain open to other cultures.

In addition to Arabic and Islamic values, all presenters stressed the utmost need to protect the Arabic language as the carrier of culture when its usage even among Arabs is in decline. Yet, foreign languages and primarily English were still viewed as necessary for work and travel.

Views of identity ranged between presenting identity as static and fixed to those calling for cultural renewal which thereby considered identity to be constantly changing and fluid. The importance of cultural production was emphasized in this regard whereby Arabs do not remain at the receiving end of globalization and become a more active and influential force on the international arena.

The presenters from Oman, Turkey, and Bahrain explained their specific contexts in protecting and promoting local culture and identity in the face of global forces, with an emphasis on the role of the state in Oman and Bahrain and the role of the ruling party in Turkey. In contrast, the Palestinian case highlighted the maintenance of a strong Palestinian identity on a popular level despite lacking state and institutional support. The paper from Hungary explored the impact of social media on the youth from the perspectives of both techno-pessimists and techno-optimists.

Waleed Serhan, 27/11/2016