GCC countries boast a number of beautiful museums, with more multi-million dollar projects on the way, including Qatar’s National Museum and Abu Dhabi’s Zayed National Museum.
But while taking a recent tour of the various museums around the Gulf, Emirati academic Sultan Al Qassemi noticed that the narrative commonly told in each of these structures omitted significant chunks of reality.
Not detailing the gruesome details of a tribal feuds or certain massacres, he can understand. But the contributions of religious and ethnic minorities, including Shias and native Christians; expats, which comprise 40 percent of the region (85 percent of Qatar); and women have also been left out.
There is also the issue of slavery.
In an op-ed for Gulf News, he writes:
At the height of trade in the mid-19th century, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 slaves were transported from Africa to Arabia annually.
…The Encyclopaedia of Diasporas states that Qatar abolished slavery in 1952, Saudi Arabia did so in 1962 and the other Trucial Gulf States (UAE and Oman) did so the following year. And yet none of the dozens of museums of the Gulf even mentions them, let alone their plight and contribution.
Perhaps GCC museums’ devotion to the official narrative explains why they see few visitors, he adds:
Gulf museums suffer from low footfall and a lack of interest among the general public. Perhaps that is because so few museums tackle pertinent issues such as the toll that the rapid development in the Gulf is taking on the environment for instance, the demographic imbalance or the presence of tens of thousands of bidoons (stateless individuals) in these countries.
Instead the Gulf states use these museums, along with school text books, state TV, radio and newspapers to establish an artificial narrative of uniformed singular national identity that at best ignores and at worst negates the presence of the ‘other’ in order to reinforce pre-approved notions.
Credit: Photo by Jeroen P