Beacons of Culture Illuminate the Sky of Abu Dhabi

التقييم 3.0 بواسطة (1) قارئ 19 قراءة

Beacons of Culture Illuminate the Sky of Abu Dhabi

A cultural triangle, whose three sides complete each
other in its aims, so that its area forms a brilliant picture of culture in Abu
Dhabi, the Zayed Center for the Heritage and History so that we do not throw
stones at our past, the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research to
examine questions with strategic dimensions and to look towards the future, and
the Cultural Academy as an eye to peruse the lines of the past and others which
gaze towards the future.

A model integration in Abu Dhabi: human efforts leave their
fingerprints in every inch of this city, which is rising up with will and
determination to draw the features of a new renaissance and the signposts of a
modern city. From its airport more than thirty kilometers away to the city
center, green trees and colored flowers accompanied us on both sides of the
road. This greenery with its flowers soon disperses in the middle of the city
into the many parks and the centers of roundabouts at street intersections and
beside tall modern buildings which reflect their different colors, usually the
colors of their glass which covers most of their facades in imitation of their
counterparts in cities of the West.

A different climate: May with its heat and humidity does not give
one the chance to walk around on foot, except inside the luxurious shopping
centers. I contented myself with looking at the building boom, the lean, broad
streets, the luxuriant parks, the beautiful beach and the modern buildings,
leaving aside the considerations of the miraculous development of the place, and
directing myself towards the person who had made these impressions, the person
who lived in this city. It was natural that the building of the place should be
preceded by the building of human beings. Then the two courses of development,
of people and place, followed one another. As long as culture is the backbone in
building people, and since the main formative elements of culture are
literature, thought and art and each one of these elements leads to several
other branches which together form the essence of cultural life in society, one
must visit the institutions or organizations concerned with cultural activity.

The Cultural Academy is the first of these places to visit. It is a
public cultural organization and also a palace of civilization. Basically it
fulfills a leading role in spreading culture, enriching thought, encouraging the
fine arts and scientific inventions, establishing national cultures and
promoting them. I hear a great deal about its leading role, so I headed for it,
but like someone who expects to visit a rather massive traditional cultural

The car turned round the building of the fort, whose style of
architecture is Islamic, a snow-white building surrounded on most sides by
trees, giving an onlooker an opportunity to enjoy the architecture. The fort
palace has a great status in the minds of people of the Emirates. It is the most
ancient building on the island of Abu Dhabi that is still standing. The palace
and its fortifications were built of coral rocks, gypsum and palm branches, and
the affairs of government used to be conducted from there until 1966.

Next to the fort rises the building of the Cultural Academy, which
is also in Islamic architectural style. I used to think that a few short hours
would be enough to comprehend everything in the Academy, but it was not as I
expected. Every day the Academy has more than one new cultural activity. I
smiled doubtingly when among the activities I read an advertisement for a
chocolate exhibition held by the Swiss Embassy in one of the galleries of the
Academy. I tried hard to connect culture with chocolate but did not succeed, and
eagerly awaited the opening of that exhibition. Before I accompany you there, we
will make a tour all around the Academy.

Perhaps the thing that most attracted me to that Academy was those
who work in it. Each one is proud of his work and what he is giving to the
Academy. A harmonious symphony each one of whose musicians plays his part in it
with commitment. But who is their conductor? From his office we set out on our
tour after he had received us with a smiling face, with great modesty and with
words flowing with respect for others and gratitude for their kindness. Khalfan
A-Mahiri, Director of Culture and Arts, spoke to us at length about the
recently-published book I Was a Witness, whose author had been an editor in
Al-Arabi magazine during its early days. In the course of his conversation,
Al-Mahiri emphasized the role of Al-Arabi in highlighting the Arab countries, as
they rise up liberated and try to build themselves, and this has helped the
process of building.

The Academy is a cultural oasis that does not boast of its beauty
as much as it rejoices in its vitality. It is full of life at all hours of the
day. People s breath warms every corner. In the beautiful evenings which we
spent there, the joy and gentle laughter of children filled the Children s
Center, which is the corner allocated to those under twelve years old. It
contains several sections, for computers, drawing, calligraphy, music, ballet
and chess. Computers, music and ballet? I said in astonishment to Mrs. Zulaikha
Al-Hausani, Director of the Center. But what banished my astonishment was the
ballet movements to which we were treated by little girls who were able to make
their bodies perform them in charming unison, and the movements of small fingers
on the keys of organs.

Specialist courses for children are intensified in summer. The
children s theater also is active, through what the children present with their
counterparts who are invited by the country.

Although the Children s Center was opened in January 1986, it has
borne its fruits in the development of the talents and creativity of children,
and in developing their sense of patriotism. Through the opportunities which the
Center gives them, it fulfills a role that is complementary to the school, and
offers children what they do not obtain there.

Journalists but Children

The experiment of Al-Anoud may be one of the most notable unusual
experiments in the Children s Center. They told me that a press interview would
be conducted with the team from Al-Arabi magazine. After a few minutes they
accompanied us to a place where we were greeted with a welcoming smile by girls,
the oldest of whom was no more than thirteen, and with kind words by their
supervisor. They said that Al-Anoud magazine would be conducting the interview,
and Al-Anoud is a magazine which the children publish in full under supervision
which never amounts to intervention by the adult supervisor. They showed us the
eight issues of the magazine which had been published over more than four years.
In fact the character of Al-Anoud was childish, but a cultured, refined
childhood containing the seeds of a sense of responsibility towards the material
and towards journalistic work which would reach other people. the reason for
this childish character is that all the members of the editorial staff of the
magazine are children who believe in their talent in spite of their young age.
The Center took them by the hand in order to make their dreams come true. Among
them are those who like writing and drawing, and lovers of photography. My only
criticism of Al-Anoud is that it is not published regularly, as regularity would
be a real encouragement to the children who write in it, if they knew that an
issue would be published at a specific time with their articles in it. The
Academy was not only an attraction for children, but also for other age groups.
It teaches many spoken languages, like Persian, Japanese, Spanish, Italian and
German, and the specialist TOEFL program. The Academy has added to that by
teaching non-verbal languages of expression, which have attracted ladies of
different ages from their homes to learn design engineering. It also opened
courses in cinema filming, and all fields. The options highlighted the skills of
those who were committed and those who excelled.

More than an Encyclopedia

Al-Anoud and the spoken languages or the languages of expression
were not the only main unusual experiments or pioneering initiatives which are
credited to the Academy. They are minor compared with other new initiatives like
the Audio Book and the Encyclopedia of Poetry.

The Audio Book is a great project complete in itself, in spite of
its simplicity. It is the first in our Arab world, and the second in the world
after the BBC experiment. This cassette has managed to remove the dust from
books to make them our companions in everything we do, in an age which is
witnessing massive technological development and a sad decline in reading, which
has become one of our many crises in the Arab world. This experiment begins with
a selection of the best chapters from the most useful famous books. The Academy
is working to record the audio books which it has completed, more than seventy
of them, on compact discs.

Both the Audio Book and the Encyclopedia of Poetry are available to
Internet browsers who visit the Academy s website. This is affirmed by Mundhir
Al-Akili, the supervisor of the Encyclopedia of Poetry, a massive achievement
which is considered a qualitative leap forward for the Academy. How could it not
be, when the number of verses of poetry collected in the encyclopedia comes to
more than two million? More than that, they are explained and scanned
metrically, indeed heard also. With its contents it takes you back to the poets
of the pre-Islamic era, and then to the poets of modern times, but not the poets
of yesterday and today, since the encyclopedia has three criteria which regulate
it. It deals with rhymed and scanned poetry written in correct literary language
by a poet who went to meet his Maker more than fifty years ago. This lessens the
trouble of searching for poets and asking his permission or the permission of
his heirs.

Our effort doubled after we had finished with the poems of the
famous ones, and we began the search for the others, the supervisor of the
project says. The trouble of searching for poets who had been forgotten or whose
writings had been concealed on purpose for one reason or another takes several
months. Hence the new edition contains a great deal of rare poetry.

The encyclopedia aims at containing five million verses of poetry.
The incentive for such a work is the Internet, which is short of Arabic material
compared with other languages. Loading the encyclopedia and its explanatory
texts, together with the books attached to it, like the commentaries on
Al-Mutanabbi and the Mu allaqat (the seven most famous pre-Islamic Arabic
poems), dictionaries and reference works totaling more than 400,000 pages on a
compact disc had only one aim: for it to reach the Arab countries in which the
Internet service is not completely available, or is not available at all. Since
it is simple to use, researchers find in it what they do not obtain within books
or papers in the same amount of time. One thing that has enriched the
encyclopedia, particularly in its first editions, is the library of the Academy
which contains more than 180,000 anthologies of Arabic poetry. What is the story
of this library?

Words cannot do justice to the story of this library, one has to
have numbers. The language of numbers is sometimes more explicit, and usually
more accurate.

Omar Al-Hadi, the person in charge of the reading room, accompanied
us on a tour through the National Library in the Academy, to show us that it
contains 400,000 Arabic titles and 30,000 foreign titles in 1,200,000
electronically catalogued volumes. This number is constantly increasing. There
are 240 visitors a day to the library, and on days when there are cultural
activities the number increases to 400 visitors a day. The library contains a
collection of rare books in old editions. These old editions used to be part of
the library of Falih Ibn Nasir Al Thani, and were donated to the National
Library in the Academy. The rare books also include some which are forbidden to
be read except by researchers according to certain procedures, and a list of
what was published about the Arabian Gulf and its states before the 1950s. The
library offers its services to readers through the information section and
secluded research rooms, and a visitor or researcher is directed towards what he
wants. There are ten of these research rooms, and two researchers take turns
with each one by agreement between them. In the library there are halls devoted
to a particular aspect of books and reference sources, like the Gulf Hall, the
Periodicals Hall and the Children s Library. The Academy intends to expand the
latter and equip it with audio-visual aids in addition to the books, illustrated
stories and periodicals it contains. On the other hand, the National Library is
concerned with publication, and one aspect of its publications is on the subject
of research into manuscripts. There is a special section for manuscripts and
photocopies of them, which contains more than 4,000 original manuscripts and
50,000 photocopies of manuscripts of which it was not possible to obtain
original copies. The collection and publication of manuscripts may in itself
constitute an immense wealth of knowledge, in the words of the Senior Researcher
of the Manuscripts Section Bassam Baroud. Among these manuscripts are nearly
fifty manuscripts of the Holy Quran in various types of script like Naskh,
Maghribi and Farsi. The oldest manuscript in the Academy is entitled Majalis
fil-Tasawwuf (Sessions in Sufi Mysticism) and was copied in 1277 AD. It is a
collection of essays by an anonymous author on preaching and guidance.

Publication in the Academy, whether of manuscripts or anything
else, has its specific mechanism which begins with receiving the research (a
project for a book), and then sending it to the judges. When the Academy has
made certain that it is suitable for publication, it contracts with the author,
buys the right of publication for six years and takes the necessary steps to
print the book. The Academy has published more than 200 books.

The National Archive also is attached to the Academy, in a separate
building. This archive is concerned with documentary information produced by the
work of government and local departments, as these contain information which
reflects an original image of the activities of the most important active forces
in society. They are useful for scholarly research. These documents are unique,
and so are preserved and stored with great care, and the most suitable place is
chosen for them in terms of the right temperature and safety from bacteria. The
full capability of computers is used for them. The National Archive relieves
ministries and government departments of the problem of storing files. It is a
member of the International Council on Archives.

Arts in Chocolate

One thing which makes the Academy like a constantly busy beehive is
these unending activities. When we arrived workers were putting up notices on
the walls. It was the exhibition of local plastic artists, including Nawal
Al-Ameri, the Supervisor of the Academy s Free Studio, which was crammed with
wonderful artistic works, not only in terms of all types of paintings. It
contains several sections, one for sculpture, another for painting on silk,
others for painting on glass or ceramics, and there is an Arabic calligraphy
section. The Studio offers its visitors a place and supervisors in every field.
This artistic side brings me back to the chocolate exhibition which had been
opened with large attendance by important personalities and members of the
diplomatic corps in the country. I could hardly believe what I saw: it was real
chocolate, but it was not for eating in that form and in that place. It was
wonderful creations sculptured from chocolate with great artistic skill. Most of
these creations depicted the Swiss environment with its nature, the most notable
things in its industry and some of its traditions.

Why don t we present our environment in sculptures from dates? I
asked His Excellency the Kuwaiti Ambassador. Isn t our country the land of palm
trees? He replied smiling, with a meaningful sentence, And is it possible and
guaranteed that it wouldn t be touched if we wrote that on it?

Before saying goodbye to the Academy, the crowning touch was with
its Secretary-General, the man with pioneer cultural initiatives, the poet
Muhammad Ahmad Al-Suwaidi, who spoke to us about the role of the Academy in
fulfilling its cultural mission both locally and in the Arab world. He explained
that when the Academy was founded, it used to serve a limited small area in Abu
Dhabi, and was not concerned with more than that. Lectures, poetry evenings,
seminars and exhibitions used to be held gradually, they did not develop all at
one go.

The Iraqi forces invasion of Kuwait was a turning-point in cultural
work. Would the fate of a cultural center like the Academy be in this limited
region, Arab crises and successive disasters? We began to think that we must
direct ourselves towards the Arabs and the Academy s message must be to them,
wherever they may be. Consequently it must also go beyond the borders of the
Arab world to the Arabs in all countries of the world. The thinking was about
strategic projects like publishing more books. The idea of the Audio Book was
born and launched, because it was one of the remaining works which can reach
every part of the world. The Academy went over to electronic publishing. The
Encyclopedia of Poetry was established, which includes about 2,300,000 verses of
poetry by the most important and prominent Arab poets.

The Golden Network

I asked him about Al-Warraq website which was established on the
Internet. It was born in the Academy and then separated from it. It now contains
hundreds of thousands of pages of Arab cultural heritage available to Internet
surfers. Why did Al-Suwaidi adopt this website, and what are his other

The poet Al-Suwaidi smiled and shook his head. My personal concern
has gone beyond the borders of the cultural establishment to setting up special
projects. I set up the Warraq project in another leap forward from the
Encyclopedia of Poetry to books on the Arab heritage. The latest of my projects
is the Golden Network. It is a bigger project than Al-Warraq, and was set up in
Cambridge two years ago. The Golden Network is a program or databank which
serves the educational and cultural sectors. It follows the movement of the
growth of cities since the beginning of history, the growth of trade routes
between them, the routes of explorers all over the world. It starts from 4000 BC
and extends to 1900 AD, how routes and cities grew up, and who the explorers
were who traveled to them. This project will be presented in Arabic and English.
It will be directed at five age groups: children, primary and preparatory school
pupils, university students and researchers. In a few months the website will be
ready, as the research and academic work on it is going on in Cambridge and the
technical work in the Emirates. With regard to Al-Warraq, at some moment you
feel that there is a specific idea and you must take a decision either to be or
not to be. When I felt that Al-Warraq needed financial backing not available to
our establishment with its numerous responsibilities, I decided to push ahead
with this experiment. Instead of there being one programmer, we brought twenty
programmers, a designer and a computer engineer. You may know that electronic
publishing is completely different from publishing on paper and the Audio Book.
The Internet is a world which appeared in the United States, and seven years
after it spread there came to be harsh conditions for members of the club. Most
of the Arabic websites are amateur sites, and the serious Arabic sites are few.
One of these is the Warraq site. It is supervised by the poet Nuri Al-Jarrah.
Money must be spent on the Arabic sites, so that they do not remain weak. They
must be supported with quality protection by a staff of professionals and
programmers. The Arabs lived through a period during which they were able to
export knowledge to others, but their hesitation in this field means that the
problem is in the Arabs themselves. Therefore I chose to enter this arena. Since
I don t want my two projects (Al-Warraq and the Golden Network) to be in the
shadow of an individual, I arranged for quarters from the Arab world to bear
responsibility for them, but after ensuring that they had reached the stage of
success. We set up a project outside the government establishment which we
called Exploring the Horizons. It is close to Al-Arabi magazine, and is also
supervised by the poet Nuri Al-Jarrah. This project attempts to accomplish a
hundred Arab journeys to the world. The Arabs used to be pioneers in this field,
and I encourage this interest and support undertaking new journeys.

Regarding the future of the Cultural Academy, that pioneer cultural
organization in the Emirates whose educational radiation extends to the east and
west of the Arab world, the poet Al-Suwaidi says, the Academy has become a
cultural lung in Abu Dhabi, and has become a meeting-place for Arabs in its
website. We are going ahead in the works which have proven their success, and in
inventing other activities. We are concerned with developing our experience, and
will continue to search for what is useful.

I don t deny that my work is confined to supervision only. I leave
the administrative practical side to the second rank, if I may use that
expression. I am continuing my attempts for cultural projects with quarters from
the Gulf Co-operation Council countries.

Another Source for Culture

While the Academy s eyes are open to the past and present with
their literature and their human sciences, discussion of highly sensitive
political questions which go with this age and look ahead to the future in its
strategic dimensions has been a matter of concern to the Emirates Center for
Strategic Studies and Research since it was founded in March 1994. It was our
second stop, where we did not remain for more than two hours. Every step there
was considered, and every conversation measured. The features of seriousness
were clear on the faces, indeed on the walls and doors too. A private world,
without sounds, and no move is made by anyone there, although it is divided
between more than ten buildings close to each other (residential villas). More
than 250 books and studies in various fields have been produced by this world,
160 diverse practical activities, daily bulletins which monitor and analyze
local, Arab and international events, providing a clear vision to
decision-makers and serving current and future policies of the state on the
basis of reliable information and accurate statistics provided by the database
of the Center, which is continually being developed and modernized.

Brief words of welcome and faces that do not betray anything,
completely neutral. Need I spend more time in description? No, I will not, I
will begin with a knock from the hand of Mr. Abdullah Al-Shaiba, Head of the
Public Relations Section, indicating the beginning of the explanation which
lasted approximately twenty minutes, and in which the position of the Center,
its structure, contributions and aspirations were summarized. It might be a
mistake for me to enumerate the aims of the Center, when I see them being
achieved through the activities which it has organized, its specialist studies,
its conferences, seminars and lectures, the last of which was on American
Foreign Policy towards the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Al-Shaiba invited us to attend
it, but its time coincided with the last few hours of our visit to the country.

In addition to the Center s interest in following up new political,
social, economic and military developments locally and internationally and
preparing strategic researches and studies and reports, it also considers the
preparation and training of research staff one of its most important aims. The
Staff Training Section contains the most important halls and is equipped with
computers with sound equipment attached to an internal network, which enables a
lecturer to view and control trainees computers. Training in this section is
confined to UAE staff working in the Center who have higher academic degrees,
with the aim of improving their research and scholastic skills in conformity
with the specializations and sensitivity of the Center. Although this section
was established the year before last, it arranges specialist training courses
for local organizations and institutions. Graduates are awarded a Scientific
Research Diploma. There are negotiations with the Ministry of Higher Education
for recognition of the diploma. Every batch consists of no more than twelve
trained graduates. If the number is more than that, the trainees are divided
into two batches.

Springs and Tributaries

The Center carries out its functions and its work through three
sectors: the Administrative Affairs Sector, the Social Service Sector and the
Scientific Research Sector. The latter is concerned with directing strategic
studies and economic and social studies and managing information. It was decided
that we should visit the library in the Information Department. As we went up
the stairs our attention was drawn to the pictures of important visitors with
those who greeted them, like the Syrian President Dr. Bashar Al-Asad, former
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the former President of the Soviet
Union Mikhail Gorbachev and others. We were accompanied to the library by Ayesha
Kutbi, who gave us a verbal report on the Center with noticeable spontaneity.
She was also in the same state when she acquainted us with the UAE Federation
Library which was founded with the Center and includes more than 62,000
periodicals and 65,000 titles in tens of thousands of books and specialist
periodicals. It also contains the basic sources of information in the political,
economic and social fields as well as the most up-to-date Arab and international
references and sources and scientific and specialist periodicals.

The work of the Library in general is part of that of the
Information Management Section, which collects and stores information to be
ready to respond quickly to provide information and sources used in accordance
with plans for data collection worldwide. The most important sources for
collecting information are the Internet and compact discs. There are more than
700 compact discs in the Center containing data coming from specialist agencies,
which send their data electronically. Discs of encyclopedias arrive continually
whenever something new is added to them. Databases, some of which are public,
collect from published reports and some from specialist agencies. In the Library
there are as many as 1,600 British documents, which in general are concentrated
on the history of the Arabian Gulf, more than 600 university theses in Arabic
and English, 2,500 maps and many rare books published long ago. It is also
concerned with the Arabian Gulf. All that makes the Library an unquestionable
archive for documentation that is indispensable for researchers. Handling the
contents of the Library is made easy by the fact that computers have been
introduced in its various sections.

Types of Contribution

In the framework of the Center achieving its aims of spreading
scientific culture in various matters, it has adopted a strategy of publishing
books which contain research papers for conferences and are published in Arabic
and English. An example of this is the book Iran and the Gulf: a Search for
Stability by Dr. Jamal Al-Suwaidi, the Director of the Center. This book has
been adopted as part of the syllabus in one of the universities. The Center also
publishes books prepared by its authors in Arabic and books translated into
Arabic. Usually these are books on important subjects which have made a great
impression in cultural circles when they were published in their original

The Center also published specialist and valuable scientific series
as international studies. They increase the activation of cultural interaction
and scientific co-operation. These studies are international research papers
translated into Arabic. They include Islamic Values, Western Values and
Globalization: Views and Questions, Strategic Studies which are concerned with
strategic issues, and the two Emirates series of lectures in Arabic and

The burdens of publication in the Center are always borne by the
Social Service Sector, which in addition to that manages conferences,
distribution and exhibitions.

The Social Service Sector is responsible for managing public
relations and information. The latter is a matter of great sensitivity, not only
because of the successive major events which our world is witnessing, but it
also acquires sensitivity from the public which receives it, most of which are

We entered the Media Monitoring Section with our friend Al-Shaiba.
A striking thing about those in charge of the work in this Center is that they
are all serious young men, or at least those whom I came to know and who
accompanied me during my visit to the Center. In the Media Monitoring Section
there are eighteen television screens, which can receive 280 television
stations. They are concerned with a limited number of these, the most notable of
which are Abu Dhabi, Qatar s Al-Jazira, CNN and the BBC. This does not mean in
any way that they are not interested in the other stations. The Center also
follows local and international news through the most important news agencies,
of which it relies on the Emirates News Agency (WAM), AFP, Reuter and Associated
Press. There is most interest in urgent news which affects the course of events.
This section through its work which continues round the clock and also includes
Internet websites with their pages from newspapers published outside the country
provides the sections concerned in the Center directly with accurate follow-up
of everything that happens, or through media publications like the 20-page daily
bulletin of news of the hour, and through a special bulletin which reaches
certain specific decision-making authorities. There are more than one thousand
special studies which have been presented to decision-makers in the country.
Before that, the quarterly magazine Afaq Al-Mustaqbal used to be published by
the Center among its media publications.

Through this perseverance in the continuous and accurate search for
information with strategic implications which influences cultural circles, and
constant follow-up of the courses of events which have great effect on the whole
world and the Arab countries in particular, and analyses so that the results of
them will be clarified to those in charge, the Center is fulfilling its mission
which its President His Highness Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Zayed formulated in his
statements that the establishment of the Center is a prominent indication of the
development of scientific research and the adoption of objective methods in
dealing with new developments, drawing up policies and taking decisions.

In actual fact, it cannot be said that housing the Center in
residential villas is practical, even if these villas are next or close to each
other, and linked with telephones and the Internet. Accordingly those in charge
of the Center have worked to construct an imposing building appropriate to the
status of the Center.

Until the Picture is Completed

Cultural establishments in the Emirates are not single and uniform
in their capabilities and potentials, or in their activities and contributions.
They are also not equal in what they have achieved and not achieved in reality,
although they are all contributing to encouraging cultural activity. But the
type and size of the contributions varies from one establishment to another.

The Zayed Center for Heritage and History in Al-Ain is run by the
Emirates Heritage Club, the third side of the cultural triangle whose area we
are trying to cover.

The road to Al-Ain is more than 150 kilometres long. In spite of
the great heat and humidity, trees and green plants accompany travelers all
along the road.

The city of Al-Ain welcomes us with a splendor which is completely
different from what we were used to in Abu Dhabi, dozens of gardens distributed
in different parts of it, and its buildings were not tall. We arrived at the
hotel shortly before the Friday prayers.

Our Heritage in New Clothes

On the morning of the next day we wended our way towards the Zayed
Center for Heritage and History, the Center which shoulders the responsibility
for preserving the heritage of their fathers and grandfathers. This in itself is
a true indication of the civilization of society in the Emirates. With a smiling
face we were welcomed by khalifa Al-Zahiri in front of the front door. We went
up to the second floor to meet Dr. Fatima Al-Mahiri in the Research Activities
Section, the first official step in our journey inside the Center. She freed her
hands from the papers on which she was working and informed us that she was
engaged in a project aimed at collecting and documenting folk tales. She was
preparing a working group of trained women researchers from the Emirates and
imparting them some expertise in collecting and documentation. I asked her what
the occasion was for this project, and why folk tales in the local heritage.
This is not the first project, she answered. The Center had accustomed the
members of society to an annual project whose roots lie in the depths of the
heritage. We have accomplished several projects, like the training course on
library sciences one time, and another in the sphere of handicraft, artistic and
other skills. In this practical aspect the Center involves citizens in finding
facts about history and the heritage and documenting them. This develops their
sense of the importance of the heritage in our past and present, and of the need
to preserve it. This participation is on the basis that teaching someone to fish
is better than giving them a meal of fish. She smiled as she said, Although we
give the meal continuously through other research activities in the Center,
which deal with history and the national heritage in the United Arab Emirates
and the documentation of the folk heritage also.

What about your researches?

My latest researches, Dr. Fatima said, are about the aflaj
irrigation system which is distributed in come areas in the northern Emirates.
Al-Ain knew more than anywhere else of irrigation by this system, and there are
famous aflaj in it like Falaj Al-Saruj and Falaj Al-Dawudi. She expounded at
length on the aflaj and their role in the greenness of large parts of the
country. What I learnt was that the researcher found a difference between the
water of two aflaj, and investigated the secret of this difference by analyzing
the water in a laboratory and by studying the nature of the land and the soil
from which the two types originated.

In a friendly manner Dr. Muhammad Hasan Al-Nabuda, Director of the
Center, accompanied us to his office to describe to us the activities of the
Center since its foundation in 1998. On the sidelines of the opening, the First
Gulf Oral History Meeting was held. Since its opening, it has been concerned
with spreading Arab and Islamic culture and local culture as a part of our Arab
culture. It has been eager to arrange conferences and meetings. The Center had
an annual tradition of assembling the largest possible cross-section of
intellectuals who are interested in the heritage and history of the region in a
meeting at which various researches and studies are discussed. On the sidelines
of the main meeting there are side meetings, which enrich the main issues of the
meeting. Four international conferences have been held, in addition to hosting
the Seventh Seminar on the History of Arab Sciences among the Arabs. The Center
intends to hold a special conference on antiquities in the United Arab Emirates,
in response to what is being done by the missions which have come to the region,
discovered many antiquities and published about them abroad in foreign
languages. There is an indication from His Highness Sheikh Sultan Ibn Zayed, the
President of the Center, that an international conference on antiquities in the
Emirates will be held annually

The Heritage Is Reborn

The publications of the Center are its most notable contributions.
The list of its publications is increasing and contains almost sixty titles.
Some titles are made up of more than one part. Most of these titles are
researches on historical and heritage subjects, which have their status among
researchers, in the development of societies and among those interested.
Therefore libraries in all parts of the Arab world country seize them eagerly.
Some of them are titles with literary echoes in our history, and some are
considered authoritative reference works in history and geography like Nuzhat
al-Mushtaq fi Ihktiraq al-Afaq by Al-Idrisi, the Anthology of Imru l-Qays and
its annexes in three parts, Masalik al-Absar fi Mamalik al-Amsar, Aswat fi
l-Fann wa l-Shi r wa l-Hayat by Muayyad Al-Shaibani and other books which deal
with the local or regional heritage, whether in the field of civilization or
education or in the maritime heritage.

I asked about the mechanism of publishing and what the Center adds
in cultural terms to the city of Al-Ain, and hence to the Emirates. The
publications are primarily concerned with researches that are presented to
conferences, the Director of the Center said. Only those researches are
published in which scholarly methodology is strictly applied, and researches
related to the society of the Emirates and its particular heritage are published
after they have been examined and it is known how suitable they are. Attention
has also been given to rare manuscripts, and now we are in the process of
publishing Masalik al-Absar fi Mamalik al-Amsar, as a valuable encyclopedia and
one of the most important sources in the Arab and Islamic heritage which has not
seen the light for a long time. Only nine volumes of it have been published, and
it is nearly 29 volumes. If we want to compare this encyclopedia with others, it
is comparable to Taj al-Arus which fraternal Kuwait published recently.

The Center has its cultural vessels, from which researchers drink
and on which the Center depends. Foremost of these is the library, which
contains sources and scholarly reference works related to the heritage and
history of the region, together with a huge quantity of periodicals, most of
which are old and have ceased publication, and their issues have disappeared.
This may be an advantage which researchers have experienced in the Zayed Center
for Heritage and History in the city of Al-Ain.

As well as the library, the Center has a treasure store of
important Arab and Islamic manuscripts containing more than 400 manuscripts on
the religious sciences, literature and history, and more than 200 manuscripts
copied on microfilm. These manuscripts are available to researchers, said
Muhammad Fatih Zaghl, who is in charge of publication, and some of them are
being investigated, like Tuhfat al-Ajai ib. The manuscript Taghrid al-Andalib
ala Ghusn al-Andalus al-Ratib has been prepared for dispatch also to a
researcher to investigate it.

The library and the store of manuscripts support one of the
important resources, namely the archive of documents. The Center has given great
attention to these documents, because of their importance in writing historical
research. Accordingly the Center has published three books, one of which
contains the Ottoman documents concerned with the history of the Arabian
Peninsula and the Gulf. The second deals with the same subject, but in Egyptian
documents, and the third in British documents. Each one of these books includes
the document, its number, the place where it is located and a summary of its

The meeting with Dr. Abdulaziz Ibrahim went on in his office, which
is surrounded by shelves of documents. After beginning with a general question,
Is it true that history exists where a document exists, and is only based on

Yes, he answered, and therefore we are eager to have it and we
translate it. A document is history, but a document does not write history.

But history is not written on the basis of a document, I said.
Usually it is written with the edge of the sword.

That s true, he replied, but not all of history is like that. When
Al-A mash Ibn Qays was told, So-and-so has been made Governor of Kufa, he said,
Our oppressor and the son of our oppressor has taken charge of acts of
oppression against us. And when that Governor gave him something, he said, Our
righteous man and the son of our righteous man has taken charge of our
interests. Here each of the two statements is a document. Hence we cannot be
certain whether that governor was just or unjust. Hence I would like to stress
that one must always deal with a document skeptically, but in one way or another
it is a complement to the image of an historical event. Documents and history
are only the history of the happy world, as the wretched do not write, and no
one writes the history of the poor.

I left the city of Al-Ain towards Dubai, heading for its airport
with my colleague. I thought, can I, through a quick observation of the cultural
contribution in three pioneering centers, comprehend the cultural reality of Abu
Dhabi? I hesitate to answer, leaving that to the moment of writing. If the
statement of the cultural reality is bigger than the comprehension of it in this
hasty work on these limited pages, then perhaps I will at least convey a
comprehensive picture of the enjoyable cultural life which the people of the
Emirates are living as a result of lofty beacons whose rays stretch out to reach
cultured Arabs in every place.

Gamal Mashael

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عصر التطلعات.. د. أحمد أبوزيد ..إقرأ
مستقبلنا المشترك ..إقرأ
هل تقوم ثقافة كوكبية موحدة؟ ..إقرأ

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