Lots of stuff happening today. In the morning there was a WEF Workspace session on branding the Middle East. You can see Workspace slide here.
The lunch I attended was held under the banner of ‘A New Arab Renaissance’, where the Arab Business Council gave awards in the field of arts to the Egyptian actor Hussein Fihmi, director Inas El-Degheidi and Bahrain artist (whose name I forgot). Amre Moussa, Shafiq Gabr and the director of the Alexandia library Ismail Serageldin (who gave an impressive speech about the tolerance and intellectual openness of Islamic culture during its golden age, and how an Arab renaissance needs to regain that spirit) . The session had an interesting discussion about the shape of the sought Arab Renaissance, the role of religion, culture and other stuff.
In the audience was the activist/femenist Irshad Manji, who asked a question about the necessity to confront certain Arab/musilim traditions, such as the concept of ‘honor’ to unleash young arabs entrepreneurial and other dreams.
Manji is a controversial figure:
Irshad Manji – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Irshad Manji (born 1968) is a Canadian author, journalist, and activist. She is an feminist and critic of Islamic fundamentalism and literalist interpretations of the Qur’an. She was once described by The New York Times as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare”. Irshad is an advocate for the use of critical thinking, known as ijtihad in Islamic tradition.
Her bestselling book The Trouble with Islam (Since renamed “The Trouble With Islam Today”) has been translated in more than a dozen languages, including Arabic, Persian and Urdu. Manji’s articles appear in major publications around the world and she makes frequent appearances on global media networks including the BBC, MSNBC, CSPAN, CNN, FOX News.
Later in the day the was a heavily attend plenary session which included Palestinian President Abu Mazen and Israeli and Egyptian foreign ministers. Saeb Erekat was there too and he was able to draw a lot of applause from the audience. One interesting thing from that session was an announcement by Palestinian business man Munib Masri about an initiative by the Palestinian private sector to push for the formation of a technocratic national unity government in Palestine, to end the embargo of the current Hamas led one.
Yesterday on my way back to the hotel on the shuttle bus I had the chance to talk with Pakistani artist Shahzia Sikander, who was on a panel about strengthening
identity through culture, which I was looking forward earlier yesterday. The panel was a bit of a disaster in my opinion (a view also expressed by Sikander). On the panel there was also the actress Youssra (who didn’t have much more to offer than ‘let’s save the world’), a Saudi poet and an somewhat over-enthusiastic Fadi Nahas, who is the founder of an organization called Act for Lebanon. His new organization is something called Wayak, which want to use Arab celebrities in sport, arts and culture to spread a positive message of life.
The panel, moderated by the Hayat Newspaper’s Raghida Dirgham, was all over the place and I could not detect much coherence. Sadly it came across as the ‘token session’ for the arts at the WEF. Disappointing.
Also yesterday I got acquainted with Jehane Noujaim, the filmmaker behind the documentary about Al Jazeera, Control Room. She was interviewing Nabil Shaath earlier on the terrace of the convention center.
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