Monday, July 4, 2011

An Arab Summer For The Arab Spring

By Boris Johnson
Ask a Londoner about his or her experience of the Middle East and you are most likely to hear of glorious family holidays on the beaches of Sinai, Tunisia and Morocco. Others might rave about the food because treats like hummus and couscous - exotic fare just 10 years ago - can probably be found in the kitchen of every young Londoner and certainly in every London supermarket.
Arabs visiting the famous Edgware Road for the first time might be surprised to find themselves sitting in a café next to non-Arabs, tucking into the kibbeh with the same relish and fussing with the coals of their hubble bubble with the same expertise.
I’m sorry to say that for a long time the seemingly intractable politics of the region was what chiefly informed the opinion of some Londoners about the Middle East. However, since January, Londoners, along with rest of world, have been awed by the political change sweeping the Arab world.
There is profound respect for the millions of ordinary people who have risen up to demand their right to a better future. That’s one of the many reasons why I’m so proud that London is holding this July “Shubbak”, a festival of Arab Contemporary Culture.
Although the festival was conceived last year, it is wonderfully fitting that we are holding it at a time of a powerful Arab renaissance.
Thanks to sponsors, we have been able to programme over 70 events across many of London’s most prestigious cultural organisations during the three weeks of the festival.
It is the first of its kind in Europe and is devoted to contemporary Arab writers, photographers, painters, directors, composers and other creative artists.
There will be screenings, talks, exhibitions and workshops from UK-based artists and those coming from afar, ranging from the Lebanese electro and hip hop music to a showcase of new trends in Arab dance choreography at the Sadlers Well theatre on July 23.
“A Night in Tahrir Square” on July 22 promises to be a particularly magical evening. The evening’s line up features artists who helped create the soundtrack to Egypt’s revolution, including street music group El Tanbura, Azza Balba (representing poet Ahmed Fouad Negm), singer, composer and oud virtuoso Mustafa Said and singer-songwriter Ranny Essam.
Shubbak is an opportunity to strengthen the relations between artists in London and across the Arab world. It also celebrates the influence of London’s significant Arab population in the city today. I think they, and the hundreds of thousands of Arab visitors to London in July, will not only enjoy attending the events themselves but take pride in seeing that Arabs are contributors to London’s unique dynamism and unparalleled arts scene as well as consumers of it.
No doubt this festival will challenge many people’s preconceived ideas about Arab culture and help illuminate the influence of the past as well as aspirations amongst Arabs for the future. It will also bring new audiences to a range of organisations.
I am certain that the artists being shown will surprise, delight and stimulate these new audiences and encourage them to think again about what it means to be an Arab today.
-This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 04/07/2011
-The writer is the mayor of London. One can follow the Shubbak festival on facebook:

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