“Artists are the engines of cultural diplomacy”, according to Egyptian actor Khalid Abou Naga, who was speaking at a panel dedicated to the topic of Cultural Diplomacy organized by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) at the Assilah Festival in Morocco.
The panel featured speakers from the worlds of art, cinema, government, politics and the media. Abou Naga said: “artists are our ambassadors. Nothing has united the entire Arab World – from the Gulf to the ocean here in Morocco – in the same way as cinema has. However, cinema and culture have united the whole world. They make the man on the street in Cairo feel the same as the man on the street in Assilah.”
He also gave an example of just how widespread culture is, telling the audience about his numerous encounters with fans and admirers of his work in Tangier the previous day. The actor and producer concluded his speech by saying “I am not a politician. I am a citizen. I am a human being. Culture unites people. Policy does not.”
The second panel on cultural diplomacy also heard an eloquent contribution from Pelin Turgut, the journalist and co-director of the IF! Film Festival in Turkey. She drew on the recent popularity of the Turkish sitcom ‘Noor’ as an example of how “Turkey has emerged as a country which produces television content for the entire Arab world. This is just one example of how the centres of cultural production are shifting – just look at the example of Brazil and India as producers of cultural content.”
She also contended that digital technology is changing the way in which content is produced and consumed in the entire region. “We tend to suffer from the thought that we don’t have resources or money. We have censorship in this region, and sometimes that stops us acting. The digital world is changing all of that. The Internet challenges us and asks how open or closed we are in what we do. On our website and forum, our users generate their own reviews and content, and we have had to learn to trust the users so that the audience moderates itself – which is an interesting challenge in this part of the world.”
ADACH is holding several workshops, art exhibitions, lectures and seminars at this year’s Assilah Festival. These will address topics such as the book industry and publishing (especially the Abu Dhabi Book Fair), Kitab, Qalam and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, and Earthen Architecture. There will also be a workshop addressing the current unique market for UAE handicrafts. The festival runs from July 10th to July 27th.
ADACH, along with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development and Masdar are representing UAE officially at the Assilah Festival as a guest of honour this year.