Kuwait at Assilah Glory to Culture

Kuwait at Assilah Glory to Culture

Photos: Rida Alqallaf

No sooner had the Kuwaiti opera soprano singer Amani Alhajji given her performance which fascinated the audience than Muhammad bin Eissa, Assilah Forum Foundation Secretary General and former Moroccan Foreign and Culture Minister, gave her and the ensemble of the Kuwait Higher Institute of Music Arts a standing ovation, so did members of the Kuwaiti delegation of intellectuals and thinkers, for their performance which bin Eissa described later as an honour for all Arabs, not only for Kuwait.

That was one of significant scenes that continued for the three-week duration of the 33rd session of the annual Assilah Forum, which welcomed Kuwait and its culture this year as the guest of honour, in celebration of Kuwait s fifty years of independence.

The main significance of the above scene is related to the excellent performance given by artist Amani Alhajji and the group of Kuwaiti tenor singers including Ahmad Alkandari and others. This is a clear indication that Kuwait, which has built its reputation in the Arab world over half a century on being a small country which became large in terms of its pioneering role in the region as a vehicle of Arab culture as well as its early interest in theatre and music arts, thought and literature. This also indicates that culture is a basic element of Kuwait s role which affirms its special political and economic position in the Arab region and the world at large. It was culture that made Kuwait s progress and formed a key part of its regional, Arab and international role in the past, which is expected to continue in the future.

Another significance concerning the opera and symphonic performance, which is not very popular in Kuwait, has proved at Assilah that it can be more popular if performed regularly, particularly in view of the important experiments carried out by Dr Sulaiman Aldikan, Dean of the Higher institute of Music Arts, who mixed symphonic music with Kuwaiti folk music. This ensemble can be the nucleus of an opera house in Kuwait, as the Institute s distinguished Egyptian, East European and other professors have trained a number of brilliant student musicians.

Culture or politics demonstrations?

Before giving an account of the opening ceremony and the main-especially the Kuwaiti-activities of this session, I d like to refer to another significant scene, which, though political, has a cultural background. The opening ceremony took place in Price Bandar Library and was attended by the former Kuwaiti Information and Communications Minister Sami Alnisf, Secretary-General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters Ali Alyoha, Muhammad Alsanoussi, former Minister of Information, Al-Arabi s Editor-in-Chief, Dr Suliman Alaskari, a large number of cultural and media figures in Kuwait, some former heads of state and others. After the opening ceremony the audience moved to the permanent exhibition of Kuwait s cultural publications walking through Assilah s streets, and on the way the Kuwaiti delegation was warmly greeted by a number of children. After the opening ceremony, loud noise was heard outside the exhibition venue where some protestors were demonstrating against bin Eissa and the Forum, which caused some confusion and anxiety and made some members of the Kuwaiti delegation leave the place before completion of the Kuwaiti pop music performance in old Assilah s square.

In point of fact I enquired about the incident for the following two days and found out that most of those demonstrators were hired by rivals to bin Eissa in the forthcoming Assilah town council elections and found the ceremony a suitable occasion to start their early campaign. Others said those young men who lived in slums demonstrated against bin Eissa who promised them and their families new flats but failed to deliver. As I visited Assilah two years ago on the occasion of Al-Arabi s fiftieth anniversary, I moved along its streets and interviewed some local officials and felt that what happened was not natural, if not rather contradictory.

The Assilah Forum Foundation, a development model

It is known that the Foundation is a leading cultural project in the Arab world and a good model of relating development to culture, thought and creativity. Over 33 years the festival has transformed Assilah from just a 17,000 - population village mostly of fishermen to a beautiful, clean coastal town with a population of over 40,000. Its old buildings have beautiful murals by eminent international painters, and its streets carry the names of prominent Arab intellectuals. Old buildings have been retained in the face of investors who wanted to demolish them and build high-rise towers instead. It is said that bin Eissa played a key role in this respect as he carried a sit-in in front of the entrance to the old town in defiance of the bulldozers saying they would only pass on his body.

Attending the first season of the Forum, poet Mahmoud Darwish went from the railway station to the town centre riding a donkey as modern means of transport were not available then. Bin Eissa had to host the festival guests in his own home, but Assilah today has many hotels for the accommodation of the guests and foreign tourists, particularly the Spanish, who enjoy the festival s excellent art and cultural activities. In addition, the festival boosts business and restaurants for the duration of the season.

Accordingly, any talk that the festival undermines the development of Assilah is inaccurate, if not wrong. Thanks to the support it receives through bin Eissa s connections, the Assilah Forum Foundation has built a good hospital, more than one school and many housing units through Saudi, Kuwaiti, Qatari and UAE investments, in addition to Bandar bin Sultan Library, which holds an excellent collection of books in all fields of knowledge, as well as a children s library. Furthermore, the season offers Assilah s residents a unique opportunity to enjoy high international art, music, fashion shows, opera and lectures by celebrated Arab writers and thinkers.

It is a leading experiment which all Arab countries should emulate to relate culture to human and economic development.

A glittering opening ceremony

The opening ceremony was chaired by Muhammad bin Eissa who read out King Muhammad IV s message to the symposium guests and Kuwait as a guest of honour, stressing this session s main theme: Immigration between National and Global Identity: in view of the importance of this phenomenon which many developed and developing communities concerned with immigration are preoccupied with. As a receiver, exporter and a crossing point of immigration, Morocco feels no concern in this connection but regards it as a sign of richness and diversity and a cultural and civilization source, in line with old Moroccan traditions of welcoming foreigners and successive immigration waves. Out of belief in man s right and freedom of movement, communication and decent life, the Kingdom of Morocco has been involved at various levels in joint action to approve new policies and optimum common approaches to the immigration phenomenon.

Former Information and Communications Minister Sami Alnisf read out the message of HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah in which he said, Kuwait s presence at the Assilah International Cultural Forum is in line with the noble purposes of its 33rd session. He underlined Kuwait s and Morocco s common civilized values which inspire His Highness and his brother King Muhammad IV to attach considerable importance to knowledge to promote the culture of citizenship, provide excellent education and achieve the purposes of pioneering and distinction. HH Sheikh Sabah said that Kuwait and its people believe that culture is their human heritage which judges borders and systems in so far as they contribute to the on-going march of civilization, which led Kuwait to participate in the Assilah Forum s activities through dialogue, discussion, creative communication and musical expression. He pointed out that before its independence and since 1958 Kuwait has carried a message of knowledge through its publications which increased at the start of each decade, such as Al-Arabi (1958), World Drama (1969) and the World of Knowledge (1978). These publications have been a landmark in modern Arab culture through the promotion of the values of knowledge and literature and provision of a forum for free expression and creativity. In conclusion, His Highness expressed his appreciation for the Assilah Forum Foundation s celebration of Kuwait s culture and civilization at the 33rd session to mark the fiftieth anniversary of independence and twentieth anniversary of liberation.

From his part, Morocco s Minister of Tourism and Traditional Industry Yasser Alzanaki affirmed that the Forum s hosting of Kuwait as a guest of honour was in recognition of this brother country s pioneering role in the Arab world in encouraging intellectuals and the spread of Arab and international culture. The Forum s hosting of Kuwait, he added, was a true reflection of constructive cooperation between the two peoples in all area, especially culture, which rise steadily to reach the excellent level of the political relationship under the wise leadership of HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and his brother HM King Muhammad IV. Alzanaki expressed his appreciation for Kuwait s civilization, wishing its people further progress and prosperity under the wise leadership of the Al-Sabah family.

The opening ceremony was attended by a number of leading international political, cultural and diplomatic figures, including the Ghanian ex-President John Agikim Cofur; Muhammad Amer Alwaziri, director of Moroccan expatrialtes affairs; Tariq Metri, former Lebanese Minister of Culture and Information, representing Fouad Saniora; Jorji Tiana, former Argentine Foreign Minister; Trinidad Jemeniz Garcia Herera, Spanish Foreign minister; Chilean MP Ivan Murira; Fatima Biban, First Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Quebec, Canada. They all talked about the importance of immigration to their countries and greeted the Foundation and Kuwait, the guest of honour.

Music: an international language

Kuwait s delegation at the symposium was large, representing literature, art, thought, the media, music, song, handicrafts and heritage. The delegation took part in a number of activities the most popular of which was song and musical performances- pop, heritage, Oriental, symphonic - and opera. The first pop song performance was given by the Kuwait Maayuf Popular Arts troupe in the Qamra Square in the old town. The performances included scenes from the desert and a variety of heritage songs which delighted the Moroccan audience.

The second day witnessed the first musical performance given by the Higher Institute of Music Arts ensemble conducted by Dr Sulaiman Aldikan at Bandar bin Sultan Library. Most of the songs were patriotic ones in which symphonic musical instruments were mixed with pop ones played by Maayuf troupe. Assilah s Kinawa troupe represented Moroccan heritage there. The evening included the excellent Institute chorus conducted by Amani Alhajji, who teaches at the institute, with distinguished performance by Fatat Sultan, professor of chorus at the Institute, Noura Alqamlas, Fatima Alawadi, Zohur Alqallaf and others.

Amani Alhajji was the star of another opera performance. She song arias from famous world opera which fascinated the Arab and foreign audience and was called Kuwait s Maria Callas , because of her beautiful soprano voice and wonderful acting. Tenor songs were played by Ahmad Alkandari, Abdul Rahman Almihimid and Abdullah Almaraghi and were a selection from world opera repertoire by eminent composers including Verdi, Puccini and Mozart.

Kuwait: half a century of culture

To celebrate Kuwaiti culture a well-attended symposium entitled Kuwait: half a century of Arab Cultural contribution was held at Hassan II Centre in which a number of Kuwaiti and Arab intellectuals shared. These included Muhammad bin Eissa, Ali Alyoha, Dr. Sulaiman Alaskari, Muhammad Alsanoussi, Lebanese columnist Abdul Wahhab Badrakhan, Egyptian academic Dr. Muhammad Hassan Abdullah, Tunisian poet Almunsif Almazghani, Syrian writer Nabil Sulaiman, in addition to a number of Moroccan researchers and writers including Ahmad Almidini, Dr. Hisham Alalawi, Saeed bin Saeed Alalawi and critic/writer Abdul Rahim Alallam, secretary-general of Moroccan Writers Union. The symposium was chaired by Dr Muhammad Alrumaihi.

In his speech bin Eissa welcomed the Kuwaiti presence and said, We at the Assilah Forum Foundation have been keen that the State of Kuwait should always be present in the Assilah seasons since their inception in 1978. Similarly, Kuwait was glamorously present in the thirtieth session in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Al-Arabi. In addition, Kuwait has always been present in Morocco with its civilization, culture, art and media as well as contribution, generosity and unfailing support for development projects in our country.

Dr Sulaiman Alaskari underlined the pan-Arab enlightenment role of Kuwait s cultural institutions as an excellent model of the contribution of a state which strictly adheres to its local belonging, regional roles, Arab ties and human activity. He also outlined his view of the future of Arab cultural development and the role of Kuwait and Morocco in this respect, particularly as they represent the eastern and western wings of the Arab world. This forum, I believe, can be the starting point for planning a new decade of cultural development based on a programme which fulfils the needs of local communities, the open media market, new currents of change in Arab and international culture and communication rather than rift, especially in the area of culture , he added. As examples of such communication, he proposed the following three cultural projects:

First: Arab travel writing, which has contributed to communication between Arab eastern and western cultures. These travels should be published in a special series which documents Moroccans travels to the eastern part of the Arab world. Al-Arabi has documented the former part s travels to Morocco in a book compiling all Al-Arabi s explorations of Morocco. He suggested that such reciprocal journeys be revived to be a regular event.

Second: An Arab cultural village: Large cultural villages in Arab countries to present Arab cultures which reflect our diversity in unity.

Third: A Moroccan book for every Arab. Moroccan literature is still unknown to Arab readers, therefore, the project for sharing the cost of printing Moroccan culture, thought and literature should be reactivated.

Muhammad Alsanoussi said the general climate of Arab cultural relations is not ideal at present. Neither Kuwaitis nor Moroccans know each other well, as the stereotyped image of Kuwait is just one of an oil-rich, consumerist society. Contrary to common belief, Kuwait s contribution to Arab culture, he added, is not limited to Al-Arabi and other publications but extends to the production of international artistic works. Do you know, he asked, that Kuwait contributed to the production of the film The Message? He said he took on that task and carried messages from HH the Amir to HM the King, adding that Morocco also offered its contribution through a special fund.

However, Alsanoussi added, that was not enough, and cultural institutions and intellectuals in both countries and in all Arab countries should go through a self-criticism process to bring about effective cultural interaction. In the evening session he gave an account of the experiment of introducing television into Kuwait, an endeavour he described as bold as it was a rival to Egyptian TV and criticized the state in Kuwait with a high level of freedom.

Ahmad Almidini reiterated that Moroccans in general were not familiar with the publications of the Arab east, particularly the Gulf, but, he added, Al-Arabi played a major role in bridging this gap and carried the flame of enlightenment to the entire Arab world in the1960s, highlighting its explorations of the Maghreb. He referred to the National Council s publications, particularly the World of Thought. Kuwait s active cultural role started long before the oil boom, which made other Arab Gulf countries allocate some surplus to cultural efforts for propaganda purposes. This active role increased the number of the centres of production of modern Arab culture which were previously confined to the Cairo-Beirut axis, he concluded.

Dr Muhammad Hassan Abdullah talked about the many years he spent in Kuwait, pointing out Kuwait s cultural role long before the oil era. He referred to the writings of Abdul Aziz Alreshaid about the visits made by such eminent intellectuals and reformers as Rasheed Reda and Hafiz Wahba, stressing how Kuwait was broad-minded enough through its publications and establishment of cultural and academic projects in the country.

Dr Saeed bin Saeed Alawi from Morocco gave an analysis of the World of Knowledge series, which, he said, is held by every Arab library.

Moroccan critic/researcher Hisham bin Alawi reaffirmed that culture is an integral part of Kuwait s societal project as Kuwait, contrary to common belief, since the 1950s and before independence has based its societal model in its local and pan-Arab dimensions on culture as the pivot of development, progress and modernity.

In his paper, Moroccan critic/writer Abdul Rahim Alallam concentrated on Al-Arabi as a bridge between East and West.

The Kuwaiti Café

The National Council organized a parallel programme at one part of the venue of the permanent exhibition of Kuwait s publications furnished in a diwaniya-like style. The Kuwaiti Café programme included a number of cultural and artistic activities such as the Kuwait s Experiment in the Preservation of Heritage symposium in which Mehana Almehana talked and was chaired by Amal Abdullah. Alhassan Centre arranged a simultaneous exhibition of Kuwaiti documents and manuscripts. Other symposia on Arabic calligraphy and a Humanizing Arabic Letters workshop were organized in which Farid Abdal, Farid Alali, Mehana Almehara and Wael Alroumi took part. Farid Alali gave a lecture and held a workshop entitled Making Letters Talk at the Kuwaiti hall in which be gave an account of the development of the patterns of Arabic calligraphy over the ages, pointing out that it is a major art which expresses Muslim identity. Arabic letters, he added, are closely related to the key elements of Arabic-Islamic culture, such as religion, language and literature, which earned them a halo of reverence which attracted many artists to develop and be engaged in it. He outlined his experiment in writing the world Allah in 99 different patterns and showed a film of the 500 patterns of the word Muhammad in eleven groups according to form and colour.

Kuwaiti theatre

A History of Theatre in Kuwait symposium was held at the Kuwaiti Café in which artist Mansur and Almansur took part. He said the first play performed in Kuwait was in 1922. Written by the late writer Abdul Aziz Alreshaid, the play was aimed at promoting enlightenment. The first plays were presented by the School Theatre until the first theatre, the Popular Theatre , was formed in 1957.The Arab Theatre and the Arabian Gulf Theatre troupes were founded in1961 and 1963 respectively, and many other troupes were founded later. He added that the late minister/ ambassador Hamad Alrejaib was the real founder of theatre in Kuwait. He invited the late Egyptian actor Zaki Tulaimat to Kuwait where he established the first centre for theatrical arts acting, scriptwriting and direction.

Oh sea!

Two musical and song evenings were held to introduce Kuwaiti rhythms and popular songs. Artist Salih Hamdan gave a lecture and Maayuf troupe presented examples of popular songs. Hamdan pointed out that Gulf artists composed music that reflected their living conditions; with seafaring and related activities being the main theme. Sailors acquired some words from the places they used to travel to. Maayuf troupe, founded late in 1961, is mainly concerned with sea arts.

Kuwaiti literature in half a century

As far as literature and poetry are concerned, two poetry evenings were held, with readings by the Kuwaiti poets Muhammad Hisham Almaghrabi and Dalal Albarud and the Moroccan poet Kawthar Albakari in the first, and by Ibrahim Alkhaldi and Dr Salim Khadada in the second.

On the fringes of the festival the Foundation published a book entitled Kuwaiti Literature by Moroccan Writers , edited by critic Abdul Rahim Alallam. Presented at the Literary Movement in Kuwait in Half a Century symposium held in Almoatamad bin Abbad University 26trh summer session, the 465-large-format-page book contains 42 papers on Kuwaiti genres: poetry, short story, novel, travel writing and drama, with a foreword by Muhammad bin Eissa and contributions by a number of Moroccan writers and critics, including Muhammad Ezzedin Altazi, bin Eissa Buhamala, Muhammad Saeed Alrihani, Abdul Rahim Moedin, Abdul Malik Shahbun, Abdul Rahim Alallam, Ahmad Zenoibar, Zohur Karram, Rashid bin Massoud and Abdul Majeed Shakur. The works discussed included novels by Talib Alrifaie and Laila Alothman, Muhammad Alsharekh and Fawzia Salim Shawish, poems by Soad Al-Sabah, Saadiya Mefrih and Mona Karim as well as short stories. In addition, a Kuwaiti Literature in Half a Century symposium was held in which a number of Moroccan writers and Kuwaiti writers Saadaa Aldaas and Huda Alshawa took part.

As a matter of fact, Kuwait s participation was not confined to the activities taking place at the Kuwaiti Café ands Bandar bin Sultan Library but covered the general programme which included a number of important activities, such as a Immigration between the National and the GlobaI Entity symposium at which Dr Abdulreda Asiri presented a paper, and Nuiclear Renewable Energy Technologies and their Impact on the South symposium at which Dr Ahmed Bishara, President of the Nuclear Energy Programme in Kuwait and Dr Amina Alfarhan, physics professor at Kuwait University, presented papers.

Dr Bishara reaffirmed that the world needs a huge amount of energy, and that oil-rich countries began to enter the field of nuclear energy in order to save fossil fuel. He referred to Kuwait s efforts in the area of solar energy, which, he said, cannot meet current demand and therefore needs further and sustained research.

Dr Amina Alfarhan said the symposium addressed three main themes: renewable energy, nuclear energy and the economic benefits of alternative energy, adding that considerable international efforts are needed to develop cost-effective nuclear energy and share technological expertise. She pointed out that the symposium also discussed GCC countries efforts in the area of renewable and nuclear energy and scientific and technical cooperation in this respect.

Finally, Alhassan II Centre hosted a number of activities for the duration of the festival: a plastic arts exhibition of some Kuwaiti artists, a permanent traditional handicrafts exhibition and photo exhibition on Kuwait and its history.

No doubt, the Kuwait days at Assila have demonstrated that Kuwait s contribution in the area of art, thought, literature and music is still enormous and the younger generation of artists possess such creative talents that enable them for further creativity in various fields. What needs to be stressed, however, is that the general cultural climate in Kuwait should regain its past qualities, as Muhammad Alsanoussi said, so that cultural plans restore such old optimism and bravery that was the talk of the entire Arab world and all festival participants. All these signs show that the future of Kuwait is conditional on the past s flourishing of culture, art and creativity.

(Translated by Dr Shaaban Afifi)


Ibrahim Farghali


Assilah’s children and young men greet the Kuwaiti delegation and the festival guests

Entrance to the old town in Assilah

Kuwaiti soprano singer Amani Alhajji fascinated the Moroccan public and was described in the press as ” Kuwait’s Maria Callas”; Kuwaiti tenor musician Ahmad Alkandari

Kuwaiti and Moroccan music mixed under Assilah’s sky in a public performance that was the talk of the town for days. Seen in the photo are Ali Alyoha, Bin Eissa, Alaskari and Alrumaihi

The Kuwaiti folkloric troupe gave more than one performance in Alqamra Square in Assilah’s old town, attracting both Moroccans and foreigners

Ensemble of the Kuwait Higher institute of Music Arts attracted the attention of the audience to the high art in which Conductor Aldikan mixed symphonic and popular music in a unique arrangement

Kuwaiti artist Ibrahim Qambar drawing a mural at Assilah

The Institute’s female chorus fascinated the audience; Amani Alhajji in the middle and Fatat Sultan, chorus teacher far left

Kuwait’s handicrafts and traditional arts made a Morcoccan girl try to imitate them

Writer Saadaa Aldaass at the ”Kuwaiti Literature” symposium

Artist Muhammad Almansur and Dr Salih Hamdan at the”Kuwaiti Theatre” symposium

Morcoccan girls welcome Kuwait

Murals in Assilah, an all-year-round landmark of the town

Spanish artist Maria signs the mural she painted

Kuwaiti artist Fadel Abbar at the "Arts” workshop

Ali Alyoha, Secretary-General of the National Council for Culture

The exhibition for heritage and arts from Kuwait is being visited by Moroccan audience

Muhammad Alsanoussi, former Kuwaiti Minister of Information

Al-Arabi’s Edition-in-Chief

Moroccan poet Ikram Abdi chairing the poetry evening of Kuwaiti poets Ibrahim Alkhaldi and Dr Salim Khadada

A group photo of the Kuwaiti delegation at the Assilah Forum

Print Article