Bahrain: Celebration and Criticism Greet “Manama, Capital of Arab Culture 2012″

On February 2, “Manama, Capital of Arab Culture 2012” (@ManamaCulture12) was officially launched. But as the celebration was taking place, opposition protests were broken up elsewhere in the capital.

The Capital of Arab Culture is an initiative of the Arab League under UNESCO's Cultural Capitals Programme. Many have criticised the awarding of the title to Manama this year, and have called for a boycott, because of the government's “repressive practices” against pro-democracy demonstrators, with writers and artists amongst them (some of whom have been forced into exile). Other Bahrainis have welcomed the beginning of the year of cultural events, and see it as a way to present a more positive image of Bahrain to the world.

As she watched the televised opening of Manama, Capital of Arab Culture 2012, Twitter user Rasha Yousif (@RshRsho) announced:

@RshRsho: Proud to be Bahraini ! #ManamaCapitalofArabCulture2012

Twitter user Fawaz Al Muhandis (@Fawazu) was impressed by the work of the Ministry of Culture:

@Fawazu: I think @MOC_BH is working towards the right direction into representing a good image of Bahrain #ManamaCapitalofArabCulture2012 thank you!

In a reference to the one-year anniversary of the start of the February 14 uprising, and the tension expected to accompany it, Twitter user @JulesALK said:

@JulesALK: #ManamaCapitalofArabCulture2012 Happy to see the beautiful celebrations today. We must enjoy feb. Good start #Bahrain

Khalid Al-Rowaie (@kalrowaie), a writer and theatre director who works for Bahrain's Ministry Of Culture, was at the opening ceremony, which included a musical performance called “The Path of Pearls” about Bahrain's traditional pearling industry. He posted this photo:

Musical performance during opening ceremony of Manama, Capital of Arab Culture 2012, called "The Path of Pearls". Image posted by Twitter user @kalrowaie.

A criticism often made of cultural events in Bahrain is that many of the artists involved are not Bahraini. Not all of those who watched the Capital of Arab Culture ceremony were impressed, feeling it wasn't representative of Bahraini culture. Twitter user @_MKAlKhalifa wrote:

@_MKAlKhalifa: Egyptian Bahraini Dance? :/ #Fail #ManamaCapitalofArabCulture2012 #Bahrain

@_MKAlKhalifa: #Bahrain has a very unique and a beautiful culture, yet the opening of #ManamaCapitalofArabCulture2012 doesn't represent it!

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Alkhalifa (@khalidalkhalifa) also attended the opening ceremony, and posted an image of the performance, writing [ar]:

@khalidalkhalifa: طريق اللؤلؤ ، ينطلق بالدانة .. معشوقة الغواص
The Path of Pearls starts with the Dana, the diver's beloved pearl

Musical performance during opening ceremony of Manama, Capital of Arab Culture 2012, called "The Path of Pearls". Image posted by Twitter user @khalidalkhalifa.

Journalist Hussain Mansoor (@Hu4mansoor) responded to the Foreign Minister's tweet with a reference to the destroyed Pearl Roundabout, focal point of pro-democracy protests, saying [ar]:

@Hu4mansoor: ليس طريقا للؤلؤ ذاك الذي لا يمر على دوار اللؤلؤة. #bahrain #14feb
It is not a Path of Pearls if it doesn't lead to the Pearl Roundabout.

Journalist Reem Khalifa (@Reem_Khalifa) commented [ar]:

@Reem_Khalifa:في عاصمة الثقافة العربية لا مكان لحرية الرأي والاستقلالية في القضاء وشفافية المعلومة بل قمع ثقافة الآخر واحتقار الإنسان الحر
In the Capital of Arab Culture there is no room for freedom of opinion, independence of the judiciary, and transparency of information, only for the suppression of others’ culture and contempt for free humans

As the opening ceremony took place at the National Museum, protestors gathered in central Manama for a weekly rally known as the Manama March, which was broken up by riot police using tear gas (the heavy use of which in Bahrain has been condemned by human rights organisations).

Clouds of tear gas in central Manama as opposition march broken up. Image posted by Twitter user @sorr0w.

Twitter user @Intelligensia1 wrote [ar]:

@Intelligensia1:المنامة الآن تجمع النقيضين تماماً.. مثقفي السلطة في المتحف الوطني.. وشعب مثقف في أزقتها مخنوق بثقافة السلطة #Bahrain #14feb #Alwefaq
In Manama right now there are two complete opposites… The regime's intellectuals in the National Museum, and the educated people in the alleys suffocating from the regime's culture


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