These are momentous times on the Arab cultural scene. From television shows to art exhibitions to music events, there has been an explosion of creativity in recent years. And of course, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are increasingly taking centre stage. In fairness, many of these developments have been transplants from abroad. When one thinks of the marquee attractions, it is often the Guggenheim or Coldplay that springs to mind, rather than ancient verses of Arabic poetry uttered in the stillness of desert nights.
But such foreign attractions have their own value. It is a rare privilege to be able to peruse a collection by Picasso, attend a Chopin concert or wander through an international book fair during the normal course of events of a weekend in one's hometown. And yet, the environment also fosters a resurgence in indigenous Arabic expression. This month, through Art Dubai and Artscape Madina on Saadiyat Island, ancient traditions are mixing with the modern sensibilities of a new generation.
One artist who was commissioned to create an original artwork for Art Dubai explained what the show meant to her. "Before, any discourse about art from the Middle East was coming from the West," Hala Elkoussy, a Cairo-based artist said. "We need to create a local discourse in Arabic, the language of the people." New realms are opening to contributors from the Arab world. Nowhere has this been more evident than the new format of television shows which are enabling cultural interaction at a different level. Prince of Poets and Million's Poet, creations of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, continue to revive and transmit the revered art form of Arabic poetry to new generations.
These trends are changing society. As The National reports today, one Saudi Arabian poet, Hissa Halal, used the forum of Million's Poet to reject a recent fatwa by a Saudi sheikh who banned the mixing of genders on pain of death. It was a brave, not to mention, elegant rebuttal that might not have been possible not too long ago. It may be too romantic - indeed, too poetic - to call it a renaissance, but these forums of expression and ideas will open minds in Arab society.