The Qatari capital premiered "Doha, the Capital of Arab Culture for 2010," on Thursday evening (January 28th), with an opera entitled Beit al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), inspired by Arab and Islamic history.
The audience in the packed hall included the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, his wife Sheikha Mozah, and several heads of states.
The Syrian Inana troupe performed the musical drama, noted for its wealth of Arab cultural heritage. The plot of House of Wisdom revolves around Abbasid Caliph Abdullah Mamun ibn Harun al-Rashid and highlights his keen interest in science and scholars during a period when Arab culture flourished with scholars, writers, and intellectuals.
Syrian opera director Jihad Suad told Al-Shorfa, "House of Wisdom is a theatrical performance that employs all styles of 'the Father of the Arts.' Its theme is universal and timeless, whether the opera was performed 20 years ago, now, or 20 years from now, because it addresses a historical issue whose consequences are still present to this day."
Suad added, "The fact that House of Wisdom was also found in the days of Mamun indicates that there was a renaissance of cultural enlightenment in his time."
He said, "We discover through House of Wisdom how Mamun, as a ruler, was able to promote culture, and this is evidence that culture cannot be established except with state institutions and the institutions of Arab governments."
Qatari Minister of Culture Dr. Hamad Al-Kuwari said in an opening speech that it was time for "culturally rich Doha to don a new suit and open its arms welcoming the brothers and friends who came to participate in its cultural wedding."
The festivities lacked many Qatari names, which led to criticism of the organising committee.
Qatari writer Moza Al-Maliki told Al-Raya newspaper that the committee "neglected people who played a major role in the revitalization of Qatari culture, who promoted it and moved it out of its stagnation since the seventies. It is as though Doha, the capital of culture, will receive the world with a limited number of Qatari intellectuals, and this number does not reflect reality, showing that those who developed these lists were either unaware the names were omitted and forgotten, or it was a deliberate, erroneous assessment of who should have been invited."
Sahla Al Saad, a Qatari writer, asked, "Where is the healthy cultural movement which we can boast of with the coming of the Doha Arab Culture Capital of 2010?"
In her article in the Al-Arab Al-Qataria newspaper, she wrote, "The Ministry of Culture in Qatar is not taking care of Qatari cultural production. We wonder, now that the Doha, Capital of Arab Culture of 2010 celebration is about to begin, where do we stand in terms of culture? Not in thought and awareness, but in action and implementation."
Jassim Salman, a writer, told Al-Shorfa that invitations to Qatari writers and intellectuals to participate in the event's activities remain limited compared to the size of the country's cultural contributions.
"There are many names that were ignored by the organizing committee, either because of the committee’s not knowing these names or for other reasons," Salman added. The occasion must be "an opportunity to showcase and market Qatari culture, which has become apparent in more than one field," he said.
Salman hopes festival organizers will correct their error, especially since the celebration runs for a full year, and there is ample time to do so.