Why Are Gulf Countries Investing in Soft Power?

Published July 29th, 2020 - 03:00 GMT
Why Are Gulf Countries Investing in Soft Power?
GCC countries looking to further diversify their economic resources are now investing in the cultural scene as a means to attract tourists from around the world. (Shutterstock)

If you think of museums you want to visit the most, you'll probably think of the Paris-based Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim or the Natural History Museum, but what if I tell you that you can visit all of these and more in the Arabian peninsula? 

Over the last few years, an increasing number of the Gulf countries have been quite aware of the importance of museums and cultural events as ways to celebrate the local identity and share it with new generations and considerable expatriate populations.

Additionally, GCC countries looking to further diversify their economic resources are now investing in the soft power as a means to attract tourists from around the world. They are now building new unique museums and hosting world-class art pieces, in addition to encouraging local artists to produce fine artwork that links the past and the future in the region.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has more than 200 different museums each dedicated to the unique cultural identity of its geographical area. During the last several years, the country has also announced numerous art galleries that reflect an increasing Saudi interest in organizing and attending cultural events.

Last month, the Saudi ministry of culture announced plans to establish the Al-Diriyah Biennale Foundation for Contemporary Art, which will be the biggest cultural project in the world with a cost near SR75 billion ($20 billion).

The foundation will be in charge of organizing an exhibition of contemporary art for the first edition set for 2021, and an Islamic art exhibition in 2022.

Additionally, the kingdom has just announced setting up its first board for Theater and Performing Arts Authority which will be tasked with developing the theater scene in Saudi Arabia, supporting Saudi artists, actors and directors, and scouting and developing local talent.

Established in 2005, the Qatar Museums Authority has managed to open a number of compelling museums including the National Museum which has cost the country about $434 million, Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), in addition to the Arab Museum of Modern Art.

Meanwhile, the UAE has worked for years on partnering with the world's most famous and internationally-celebrated museums bringing them to its cities, hoping to make the country 'a cultural oasis in the Arabia desert.'

In 2017, the Emirati capital opened the first Louvre museum outside of France, making it the 'Arab world’s first universal museum to life' through displaying over 600 artworks from all corners of the world. 

Looking forward to encouraging citizens and residents to visit the Abu Dhabi Louvre, the museum unveiled a radio-guided highway art gallery along 100 kilometers of road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Similarly, Abu Dhabi has announced plans to build an Emirati Guggenheim museum in 2011. The Abu Dhabi Guggenheim is estimated to cost $200 million and is supposed to be open before 2025.

Local museums are now drawing even more attention especially as residents are hesitant to travel abroad for the summer vacation due to COVID-19 restrictions and are looking up nearby gems to explore, which is why announcements of museums reopening are continuously being hailed on social media.

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