50c656691ea49210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2008-Q2Spain reaches out to old friends40c656691ea49210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____Spain reaches out to old friendsThe Spanish embassy is planning series of cultural exchanges in an attempt to strengthen ties with the UAE.The Spanish embassy is planning series of cultural exchanges in an attempt to strengthen ties with the UAE.<p>The eighth century saw the start of a remarkable period of Muslim rule in southern Europe that for many is evidence that Jews, Christians and Muslims can coexist in peace.</p>
<p>In 711, a small force of Berbers and Arabs landed at Gibraltar and, within a few years, most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim rule.
The city of Cordoba became the centre of the caliphate, and the success of Al Andalus - the Arabic name for the area under Muslim control - represented a remarkable comeback for the ruling Umayyad family, which had been overthrown in its previous base of Damascus.</p>
<p>While much of the peninsula was ruled by Muslims, there were also thriving populations of Jews and Christians and often the cultures of the three peoples merged.
It was not until 1492 that the Moors, as the Muslims who lived in Spain were known, lost control of the region and Christianity regained its previous dominance.
This history means that many Muslims have felt a special affinity with Spain. However, recent events - not least Spain's decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 - have put this relationship under strain.</p>
<p>Cesar Espada, cultural attache and deputy head of the Spanish Embassy in Abu Dhabi, conceded this was the case.
"The partnership of Spain in the Iraq war was a setback," he said. "The Arab world was a little bit surprised because they had always thought of us as a friend."
While Spain's withdrawal from Iraq following the 2004 election of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as prime minister helped Spain to "recover a good image" among Muslims, Mr Espada said there was work to be done in the other direction: improving the post-September 11 image of the Muslim world in Spain.</p>
<p>This is important because Spain has a sizeable Muslim minority, thanks to immigration from Morocco and Algeria.
In 2006, the Spanish government set up the Casa Arabe, or Arab House organisation, in the hope that bringing Middle Eastern culture to Spain would lessen suspicion of the Muslim world. The tactic had a pedigree: sister institutions had been set up to bring cultures from other parts of the world, including Africa, to Spain.</p>
<p>"Islam doesn't have a very positive image in Europe, so one of the things Arab House is doing is helping Spanish people in general to know a bit about the Arab world and the Muslim world," Mr Espada said.
The UAE, whose ties at government level with Spain were recently cemented by the visit of King Juan Carlos, will play a crucial role in the work of the Madrid-based Casa Arabe.
The organisation is setting up an annual programme that will see two young Emirati artists travel to Spain for between three and six months. The likelihood is that they will stay in Cordoba, the former centre of Islamic Spain, and home to Casa Arabe's International Institute of Arab and Muslim World Studies, and put on public show.</p>
<p>At the same time, Casa Arabe will fund Spanish artists, musicians, filmmakers and other creative professionals to come to the UAE to give master classes.
The organisation has also signed collaboration agreements with the Al Maktoum Foundation in Dubai and Ajman's Department of Culture and Information.
"Arab House is a very young institution but already it is showing a great interest in the UAE," Mr Espada said.</p>
<p>The organisation's work followed initiatives by the embassy, which in 2006 invited Spanish artists to come to the UAE for a few weeks as part of an artist-in-residence project. The art that was produced, including photographs of a football pitch in Sharjah, was shown for two months at the end of last year and early this year at Sharjah Art Museum.
The results of a second artist-in-residence project will be displayed at Ghaf Gallery in Abu Dhabi from June 24 to July 8, and both exhibitions will travel to Casa Arabe's Madrid headquarters next year.</p>
<p>Mr Espada said cultural exchanges could give people a more up-to-date image of what Spain was like - and that could help to encourage commercial links.
"In the UAE, local people like Spain because they have this romantic image of Al Andalus, because they feel part of the culture and history, but maybe the image they have of Spain doesn't match the look of contemporary Spain," he said.
"This lack of knowledge is sometimes a handicap. Spain is very modern and culture can help to convey this image."</p>
<p>Just as lack of knowledge can be a problem, language could also be a barrier to cultural and commercial exchange. As a result, another Spanish government organisation, the Instituto Cervantes, is hoping to encourage more people in the UAE to learn Spanish.
"People are very interested in learning Spanish because they like Spanish literature, painting or Flamenco," Mr Espada said.
As a first step, Spain's ministry of foreign affairs is partly funding a Spanish teacher at the American University in Dubai, who has about 150 students.</p>
<p>Next year, the institute hopes to establish a dedicated centre, the Aula Cervantes, and eventually would like to open a fully-fledged headquarters in the UAE.
"Some of the Arab countries already have an Instituto Cervantes, but here in the Arab peninsula so far there isn't one," Mr Espada said.
"We have been pushing very hard to have some presence for the Instituto Cervantes here. There is a great demand from the public. People call us to ask: 'Where can we learn Spanish?'."</p>