x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Emirati folklore deserves serious study

Arabic language editorials also comment on Palestinians as "tourists" and the Egyptian constitution.

A debate over the recording of Emirati culture, including the traditions of both desert and sea

The process of recording the folk traditions of the United Arab Emirates has come a long way, bolstered by a growing involvement of official bodies and groups represented by local collectives, wrote Mohammed Ould Mohammed Salem, a features writer with the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

But the time has come to ask some questions, Salem wrote in an opinion piece yesterday. Has enough been done? Has the scope of folklore recordings reached the stage where experts can now start studying the cultural legacy, as opposed to just collecting it?

"For decades, bodies like the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development; the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage; the Department of Culture and Information in Sharjah; the UAE Heritage Club; the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, and others, have all put serious efforts into collecting and writing down this body of culture, by organising field trips and surveys to get to the sources of that folklore and document it right there at the original source," he wrote.

Now, many local experts differ on whether enough has been achieved in this respect so far.

While the Emirati poet Ahmed Al Matroushi thinks that "most of the UAE's folklore has been recorded", local heritage researcher Ahmed Obaid maintains that "recording folklore hasn't even started yet".

"To be sure, there is still material to be recorded," Al Matroushi concedes.

"And for the picture to be as clear as possible … we must make a distinction between two types of folklore: the sea culture and the desert culture, for each has its own means of expression," he notes.

The poetry chanted by sailors is characterised by "a sense of defiance of the unknown" and carries influences from other cultures, as sailors would travel to Oman, Yemen and Ethiopia, Al Matroushi explains.

As to the desert culture, it is rooted in the Arabian Peninsula and is known for its use of lush, expressive language.

For his part, Obaid holds that "it is still too soon to talk about the near completion of the recording phase. Folklore is not just oral narratives in poetic or prosaic form; it is a whole way of life that includes tangible and intangible aspects.

"By 'intangible', I mean the set of behaviours and the moral paradigm that governs this society. And this, by far, has not yet been exhaustively recorded.

"Even food has its own culture … These components are the building blocks that make up this whole thing that we call folklore," the writer noted.


Tolerated as tourists, despised as Arabs

For hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, visiting Jerusalem from the inside, or other towns like Jaffa, Haifa or Nazareth, has long become a cherished, yet hardly achievable dream, stated the West Bank-based newspaper Al Quds in its lead editorial yesterday.

"So when they were given the opportunity during the last days of Ramadan and through to the Eid holidays, many poured into all those areas, filled the beaches and, so it was reported, spent millions of shekels in Israeli souqs," the paper said.

This sparked up a debate in the West Bank. According to some local analysts, the Israeli move to grant Palestinian tourists entry had nothing to do with helping them fulfil a wish. It was pure economics. The fact that easing entry procedures ended with the holidays corroborates this reading, the paper noted.

"Meanwhile, racism against our people is taking new forms with more incitement and calls [on Israeli youth] to refrain from mixing with Arabs … Palestinians on the street would be assaulted for no other reason than they are Palestinians."

Tolerating Palestinians as tourists while also tolerating racism against them reveals "a facet of Israel's hideous politics regarding Palestinians", the paper argued.

"When tens of thousands of Palestinians walked around inside Israel as 'tourists' for old times' sake, they were not oblivious to that … but they were asserting their resolve to exist."

Egyptian first lady's nationality matters

A media report last week suggested that the Egyptian constituent assembly tasked with drafting the country's new constitution might not require that Egypt's first lady be born Egyptian - a decision that, if confirmed, needs to be given further thought, wrote columnist Yahya Al Gamal in yesterday's edition of the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram.

Never have Egyptian constitutions, since 1952, mentioned anything about the nationality of the president's wife. The first time the question was brought up in any significant manner was in the lead-up to the last presidential election. It was being discussed as a potential item on a list of constitutional amendments.

"But I think that was just an attempt - and I may be wrong - to eliminate Dr Ahmed Zewail from the presidential race, because his wife was not Egyptian." At the time it was rumoured that Dr Zewail, an Egyptian-American Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, was going to run for president.

Some commentators have argued that, given the geopolitical position of Egypt, the first lady ought to be either born Egyptian or hold an Arab nationality. "And this formulation, I think, is worth the constituent assembly's consideration," the writer said.

Egypt is not France or the Philippines, he said. "We are reminded of it every morning."

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi