Earlier this month, Sultan Sooud El Qassemi wrote an op-ed in Al-Monitor that has stirred considerable controversy. El Qassemi, a writer, active Twitter presence, businessman, art patron, member of Sharjah's ruling family and friend, argued that the capitals of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have become
..the nerve center of the contemporary Arab world’s culture, commerce, design, architecture, art and academia, attracting hundreds of thousands of Arab immigrants, including academics, businessmen, journalists, athletes, artists, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. While these Gulf cities may be unable to compete with their Arab peers in terms of political dynamism, in almost every other sense they have far outstripped their sister cities in North Africa and the Levant.
Needless to say, the claim that Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become what Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo once were to the Arab world raised many hackles. The Angry Arab replied:
What contribution to Arab culture have those cities made, unless you are talking about sleaze, worship of the European, denigration of the Asians, promotion of singers purely based on breast sizes and lip thickness, prostitution mentality (literally and figuratively), gender segregation and repression, the culture of measuring humans by the size of their bank accounts, etc. Culture, what culture? Cairo and Beirut were known for hosting a culture that allowed (often despite desires of the ruling governments) various political and cultural trends to co-exist and to clash, and for the expression of divergent political viewpoints. Cairo and Beirut were cities that allowed artists and writers to seek refuge and to express themselves artistically and creatively, and there is none of that in the Gulf. Yes, academics and journalists are flocking to the Gulf but what have they produced there? What ideas? They go there and they work as assistants and propagandists in the entourage for this prince or that prince. If anything, the impact of that Gulf oil and gas culture has been quite corrosive on the entire Arab world and its culture. In that sense alone, yes, Gulf cities do play a role.