The globalizing world propelled countries such as the United Arab Emirates and other neighboring states to consider issues such as multiculturalism, cross-culturalism and transculturalism within the context of their national identity. Hence, the question of preserving national cultural vis a vis the modernization of their economies and traditions necessitates a closer look at how the Arab countries had been addressing the concern for heritage revival and the different strategies that would make it more successful.
In this essay, the question of tradition and heritage revival and invention of tradition would be explored in relation to the UAE context specifically in the sphere of the socio-cultural and politico-economic arena. Consequently, the question of similarities and differences between the approach of Dubai and Sharjah would be explored in terms of how they have conducted their heritage revival programs. Heritage Revival and Invention of Traditions In the face of a globalizing environment, UAE and Arab states are faced with the challenge of preserving their national culture and the heritage that had been fought and preserved by their ancestors.
Essentially, heritage revival refers to the process of reinforcing and revitalization of cultural traditions that are inherent in the Gulf countries particularly in terms of values, traditions and expressions, art, social practices, language, knowledge, lifestyle and even manner of dressing and leisure activities (Pearson and Sullivan, 1995). Consequently, with the modernization that Gulf countries have undergone, reforms are also necessitated in order to keep up with the changing traditions and values among Gulf residents.
Particularly, the invention of traditions or what Hobsbawm (1983) refers to as set of practices that have been inculcated to values and behaviors that have been repetitively done which is normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and rituals. These traditions according to Hobsbawm (1983) become invented by virtue of the continuity of the past traditions but with the integration of contemporary practices that have been accepted in the society.
In the UAE and Gulf countries, the invention of traditions occured because of the massive changes in the society brought about by globalization, the entry of foreign businesses and culture in the region as well as the potent socializing power of the mass media (television and internet). Consequently, the need for the society to provide a bridge between the old traditions to those coming from outside of the Gulf area is necessitated hence, traditions are modified and new culture is absorbed and screened in order to fit into the culture of the Arab countries.
Consequently, in doing so there is a need for social awareness of the rich culture and traditional values of the Gulf area through the program of heritage revival. In doing so, countries in the region is not only disseminating information but also provided a thematic approach in socializing the much younger generation to the essence and richness of their own traditions. In the Gulf countries, this meant revival of traditional practices, support for the increase in the number and quality of performances, art exhibits, revitalization of museums, education and online campaigns for heritage revival.
In doing so, the Gulf region is trying to construct history not by reversing it or regressing to the old culture but rather by fusing contemporary to the older culture in order to create a dynamic cultural and national identity for the Arab countries. Consequently, the term invention of traditions are constructed by scholars in order to emphasize the need to keep pace with the changing dynamics of the global and domestic environment as well as the cultural changes that have been taking place in the region.
It should be noted that cultural changes and the socialiZation process is necessary in order to advance not only culturally but socially as well . Heritage Revival in the UAE Essentially, UAE and the rest of the Gulf countries had been culturally challenged- transforming from a traditional Islamic culture to a highly Westernized society characterized by Western preference for clothes, industries and even the way of living. UAE similar to other Arab states remained to be transnational country with predominant influences from the American and British culture (Al Rasheed, 2005).
For instance, most of the elites in UAE would go to American or British Universities and learn their language and in the process had become Westernized in their manner of clothing (prefering the coat and tie). However, Khalaf (2002) argued that a cultural reorientation emerged in UAE hence, replacin Western traditions to that of the Arab national identity- this reassertion was in lieu with the threat that Western traditions had imposed on the cultural identity of most citizens in the UAE.
Hence, from thereon, the struggle to revive the heritage and the traditions of UAE had emerged in order to build a stronger national identity in lieu with modernizing forces from Western traditions. The primary tenet of heritage revival in the UAE takes on a holistic approach in order to revive its national identity; involves not just the social and cultural sphere but also involves the political and economic institutions as well (United Arab Emirates Government, 2007).
Hence, the government includes in its program not just the Ministry of Information and Culture’s promotion of drama, music and art activities but it also promotes these performances outside of the country. Consequently, public libraries had been instituted in order to support the activities of heritage revival of the following organizations- the Department of Culture, Juma Al Majid Center, Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi, Department of Culture and Information in Sharjah and the Fujairah Cultural Organization among others.
Culturally, the heritage related activities have refocused the attention of the people from Western ideals and traditions to that of Arab and Islam culture. Concurrently, the revitalization of camel racing had been central to the heritage revival of UAE particularly in holding up events at the Nid-al-Shiba in Dubai and Al-Wathba had been one of the efforts to renew interest in the cultural identity of the region.
According to Khalaf (2000), camel racing represents the complex cultural, political and economic interplay in UAE’s changing society- it is both a celebration and a cultural performance aimed at creating aesthetic constructs for nationalistic ideological discourse (Khalaf, 2000). Moreover, Dubai had also initiated cultural activities such as the Rashid Awards, Sharjah’s Award for Arab Creativity and country-wide efforts for cultural renewal through the use of arts, education, sports, mass media and the economy.
Moreover, the improvement of museums and heritage villages which displays the traditional lifestyle of the Arab countries which includes the setting up of campfire drinking gahwah while appreciating the bedouin crafts and customes and boating and pearl diving through reconstruction of dhows and old souqs (UAE Government, 2007). Consequently, the heritage revival program of UAE had also been launched online in order to reach a wider range of audience both in the country and in the world (UAE Interact, 2007).
Socially, the increased activities have also generated increased social awareness and support of the efforts of the government to revive the heritage of the Arab region. For one, more people had been in attendance in activities that promotes cultural renewal. All of these heritage related activities point to the fundamental need to revive the national identity and preserve the heritage of the rich traditions of Islam and Arab cultures in the country. Politically, these heritage activities pursues the shift in the priorities: to that of a compromise between Arab and Western priorities.
It should be remembered that most elites in the country including political leaders have chosen to pursue their studies in American and British universities. Political leaders and managament have therefore been strongly influenced by Western ideals. The revitalization of heritage activities brought about the shift not only in the re-orientation of the political leaders and of the citizenry but also the reorganization of the priorities to focus not only on international trade and MNCs but also of local industries.
Hence, economically, the support of the government for local industries particularly of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) had been instituted in order to support and aid with the Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) that are invested in the Arab countries. Therefore, economic goals of instituting a more domestic-oriented policy in the Arab region had been influenced by heritage related activities that have sought to look into the country first. Approaches to Heritage Revival in Dubai and Sharjah
Dubai and Sharjah, two of the most distinctive countries in the Gulf Area boasts of heritage revival programs that spans through structural preservation and improvement through the building of infrastructures, museums and other cultural sites as well as in preserving the lifestyle that had been cognizant with the Arabic culture. The primary difference between the two countries is that Dubai is an open city and had been the center of trade in the Gulf region- which opens it up for a multi-cultural setting.
On the other hand, Sharjah, being the cultural center of UAE had a significantly lower percentage of multiple cultures inhabiting its region. Hence, while Sharjah had afforded to provide for a more liberal display of its cultural heritage, Dubai had lesser infrastructures to boast of. However, the similarities include that of the ability of Dubai and Sharjah to maintain the traditions within the people. Primarily, Dubai and Sharjah had targeted the people in preserving their cultures.
For instance, despite being a metropolis, Dubai nationals can be seen walking in the streets wearing their kandoura and dishdasha and women being seen in their abayas. This despite the modern influences that have reached Dubai. Consequently, performing arts had been revived to include songs, sword dances and Bedouin traditions. Consequently, both Dubai and Sharjah had preserved the Bedouin tradition of camel racing. Moreover, Dubai had also revitalized its manufacturing industry and have created a fusion of modernity and its handicrafts and products in order to display its rich cultural heritage.
Hence, while Dubai’s approach had been in preserving its culture through arts and business, Sharjah had taken on a more different route. According to Fox (2006), Sharjah is more tradition in approaching the process of heritage preservation. For instance, its ruler Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi had preferred to preserve their culture through infrastructures that boasts of the rich culture of the Arab countries including the New Souk, Souk Al Majarra, Cultural Roundabout, Ruler’s Diwan and numerous museums, malls, stone mashrabiyas and other wonders that displays the magnificence of their culture.
The differences in the approach of both countries can be attributed to the socio-politico-economic dynamics of both areas. For onem, Dubai would need to contend with a multicultural setting as compared to that of Sharjah which is considered to be a cultural center in the country hence, spaces for cultural displays are much more abundant. Conclusion Heritage revival and invention of traditions are necessitated in countries in the Gulf area because of the Westernization process that had engulfed the area in the past decades.
While modernity had produced development and progress in the region, the increased socio-cultural awareness is important in order to maintain the national and cultural identity of the people and in the region. After all, culture is what defines people- and in a period where national identity involves complex processes, heritage revival and invetion of traditions are necessited in order to preserve the richness of the Gulf countries’ traditions.
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