The GCC is to launch a campaign to improve its image and combat the "oil sheikh" stereotypes pervading the West and the rest of the Arab world. Dr Abdullah al Hashim of Kuwait, the GCC's assistant human and environment secretary, said a 10-year culture plan will concentrate on folklore, music, museums and ancient history of the group's six member nations. "The GCC now has made incredible progress over the last decade and it is now important for us to maintain and manage our image at a regional level in keeping with our new position in the world," Dr al Hashim said.
"It is very important for us not to be misunderstood or judged wrongly but sometimes we have such misunderstandings because we do not communicate. "Maybe we differ on some issues of politics and so on but there is also always common ground. We all eat, listen to music and dance. We share the destiny of human beings on this earth. We have a rich culture and environment in this region and now we are showcasing it."
The new Museum of Islamic Arts in Qatar is an example of how the Gulf can become a centre for scholarly excellence, he said. Abu Dhabi hopes its planned cultural district of Saadiyat Island will make the capital the cultural centre of the region. With four major museums and a performing arts theatre, authorities hope the Dh100 billion (US$27.23bn) project will attract cultural tourists from around the world upon its completion in 2018.
Plans were announced in July for the Dubai Museum of Middle East Modern Art in the city's Culture Village, a Dh50bn complex that will include an amphitheatre, an exhibition hall and a number of small museums. The Gulf states' cultural similarities mean they can be grouped together and presented to the rest of the world, said Dr Ibrahim al Abed, director general of the UAE's National Media Council.
"We can't live in a ghetto. The Gulf countries are similar in social structure, tradition and governmental system. Of course every area has its own peculiarities, as anywhere, but there is no problem in presenting the Gulf as a unified culture," he said. He said it was not just westerners but also other Arabs that subscribed to stereotypes reducing people from Gulf states to "oil sheikhs". "There are a lot of stereotypes inherent in the way the western world and even other Arab countries see the Gulf," he said.
"They see us as oil sheikhs. People coming from outside used to want to know about the oilfields. I told them they are the same as anywhere. What makes us special is our culture, the way we do things. "But things are changing. ... Now our tourist attractions, our museums, our universities and media are on the radar. "It all has a cumulative effect. But it needs more work and we cannot be casual about it."
John Duke Anthony, founder of the National Council for US-Arab Relations, said the UAE "has made some commendable efforts and has an office in the US". But, he added, it is the only Gulf nation to have done so as far as he knew, "although I'm sure more will follow". While many Gulf nationals were well acquainted with the West and the US in particular through travel, he said, Americans are not as knowledgeable about the Gulf, which increases the challenge facing Gulf countries to create an image of themselves that goes beyond oil wealth.
He said that 200,000 Saudis had been to university in the US, but claimed that "not one" American had made the opposite journey. "And of the 4,200 universities in the US, only about three have courses covering the Gulf. American analytical knowledge and understanding of this region is profoundly lacking, not this region's knowledge of the West." email@example.com