The Emirati diplomat and author made a speech at the final day of the Culture Summit Abu Dhabi
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What constitutes Emirati culture needs to be re-examined, Omar Saif Ghobash, UAE ambassador to Vatican and Letters to a Young Muslim author, said during his speech on the final day of Culture Summit Abu Dhabi.
“I see that there are general directions for considering and determining what constitutes culture in the Emirates,” said Ghobash. “First can we have those members of our society who limit culture to ancient arts that predate the discovery of oil — songs, poetry, the culture surrounding pearling diving, desert crossing and ancient forts. It is much to be admired and enjoyed.”
However, while there is great value in bolstering the country’s traditional heritage, Ghobash said it shouldn’t come at the expense of pigeonholing what qualifies as Emirati culture. There is another tendency in local society, he says, and that is to be open to the country’s present moment.
“This is a culture that recognises that Emirati doesn’t mean just the passport holder, as it once used to,” he said. “This version of what our culture is includes everyone now who lives and breathes and works here. This is when our leaders begin publicly speaking about Emirati society as opposed to Emirati citizens, with the emphasis on all being included, irrespective of religion or ethnicity.
“This is an Emirati culture that says: ‘We are who we are because you are here with us’. Because we all created this society together and because we aren’t afraid of difference and change and mixing things up. It’s a culture that needs to be recognised more fully. It’s a culture that reflects a specific mentality, and a mentality that has its roots in the wisdom of our elders.”
This openness to change and willingness to adapt and grow dates further back than many may think, Ghobash said. The country’s founding fathers did not have the material wealth or educational resources that many today benefit from, but Ghobash said they did have “a sense of justice”.
“They brought together a strong identity and pragmatism,” he said. “When members of the tribe objected to outsiders in their presence, our founding fathers eased their fears and calmed their anger in order for all of us to benefit.
“Outsiders would certainly affect our self-understanding, and with time, our identities would begin to mix with that of the other. The founders knew it would all work out. From the early Canadian missionaries in Abu Dhabi and the Indian and Pakistani traders in the other Emirates all the way to the policies of today where all are welcome.
“We should celebrate our traditional customs and practices. A new generation of Emiratis might come to these traditions and rediscover them in a new way, maybe add to them. At the same time, we support a broader set of cultural movements. Our culture evolves beyond our control, and we should delight in its twists and turns.”
Scroll through the gallery below to see more from days one and two of the Culture Summit Abu Dhabi
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, founder of Barjeel Art Foundation, takes part in the discussion on the third and final day of Culture Summit Abu Dhabi. All photos: Victor Besa / The National
Updated: October 25, 2022, 8:33 AM