Saudi Arabia has embarked on a real cultural revolution, says Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 

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Saudi Arabia and France have partnered in developing the ancient city of AlUla in the Madinah region into a cultural and tourism center. (Supplied)
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Diriyah’s historic Al-Turaif district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an important tourist, cultural and educational destination in the world. (Supplied)
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Cinemas first returned to Saudi Arabia in 2018, decades after it was banned in the Kingdom. (AN file photo)
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Updated 29 July 2022

Saudi Arabia has embarked on a real cultural revolution, says Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 

  • There has been a radical change brought about by the impetus of the crown prince in all areas of culture, Lang tells Arab News
  • Crown prince’s Paris visit will open up new possibilities in bilateral relations and consolidate ties, says former minister of culture 

PARIS: Jack Lang is one of the prominent cultural public personalities in France. He was minister of culture from 1981 until 1986, and again from 1988 until 1993. He was also minister of national education from 1992 to 1993, and from 2000 to 2002.

Lang has been deeply connected with Arab culture by virtue of his presidency of the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA), or the Arab World Institute, in Paris since 2013. Under his leadership, the Arab World Institute, founded in Paris in 1980, has organized cultural workshops, concerts, conferences, exhibitions, festivals and activities both in France and around the Arab world.

The IMA has a museum, library and auditorium, and seeks to provide a secular location for the promotion of Arab civilization, art, knowledge and aesthetics as well as the teaching of Arabic. It was founded in 1980 by 18 Arab countries and France to research information about the Arab world, including its cultural and spiritual values.

Q. What is your perception of Franco-Saudi cooperation?

A. First of all, I welcome the visit of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince to Paris. This is an important event, which will certainly open up new possibilities in bilateral relations and will consolidate the political, economic, strategic and cultural ties between France and Saudi Arabia.

I am not directly linked to political life, so I do not have to comment on related issues. I know that there are differences that may arise; these are discussions that will undoubtedly take place between the leaders of the two countries, President Emmanuel Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

For my part, I cannot forget that historically, the two founding countries of the IMA were Saudi Arabia, at the time of King Khalid, and France, with President Valery Giscard d’Estaing.




France's former culture minister Jack Lang. (Supplied)
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Q. What about Franco-Saudi cooperation in the context of cultural projects?

A. Saudi Arabia is a fabulous country that is developing many ambitious projects like the AlUla project, initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud, the Saudi minister of culture, and supported by France via the French agency in charge of the development plan for this site.

Personally, I belong to the advisory committee, operating under the authority of Prince Badr. The committee does exceptional work for the preservation of the site, its history and the beauty of these incredible places. Every time I go to AlUla, I am struck by the progress of archaeological, touristic, economic and social projects.

I am also impressed by the respect that AlUla officials have for the history of the sites and the local populations, who are fully associated with the project, which is indicative of the ambition the Kingdom sets for its cultural revolution.

In France, in Europe, and more generally in the West, we do not know enough about the extent to which Saudi Arabia is starting a real cultural revolution. If we compare the situation five years ago with that of today, we see a radical change brought about by the impetus of the crown prince in all areas of culture: Cinema, theater, museums, architecture and music.

There is a rather unique cultural breath and momentum in this country. I can cite the first Red Sea International Film Festival, organized in Jeddah last year, or the many exceptional projects scheduled in Riyadh, a city destined to become one of the greatest cultural capitals of the world.

It is the same for the other cities and regions of the country, which are experiencing this dynamic in all artistic and creative disciplines. What is being accomplished today in Saudi Arabia is astonishing and remarkable.

If the visit of the crown prince is an opportunity to make this happy and positive metamorphosis better known, it is wonderful. I can only rejoice in this extraordinary cultural effervescence which makes Saudi Arabia a major country in world culture.




Cinematic masterpieces and their creators flocked to Jeddah for the long-awaited Red Sea International Film Festival late last year. (AN photo)

Q. What is the place of youth in this “cultural revolution?”

A. This cultural, educational and scientific strategy mobilizes the youth, who represent the Saudi Arabia of tomorrow. Many young people recognize themselves through this new impetus. If we go today to Jeddah, Riyadh or elsewhere in the country, we see that a new cultural event takes place every week. It is kind of a permanent cultural revolution.

Personally, I am one of those people who thinks that each country must prioritize culture, youth, science and education. This is the choice made by the Saudi authorities to build the future of the country.

France, as a country committed for a long time to these issues, will find itself in full harmony with Saudi achievements.

Q. What about cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the IMA?

A. Since I have chaired the IMA, I have forged close relationships with the cultural leaders of the Kingdom. The crown prince has decided to provide financial support for the renovation of the mashrabiyas on the walls of the IMA building, designed by (French architect) Jean Nouvel.

We are discussing many projects, including the possible creation of an IMA in Riyadh and, above all, the possible support of Saudi Arabia for the renovation of the IMA museum, which is destined to become one of the most important museums of contemporary Arab art in the West.


Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

Updated 48 min 36 sec ago

Beijing, Shenzhen scrap COVID-19 tests for public transport

  • Slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs

BEIJING: Local Chinese authorities on Saturday announced a further easing of COVID-19 curbs, with major cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing no longer requiring negative tests to take public transport.
The slight relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements comes even as daily virus infections reach near-record highs, and follows weekend protests across the country by residents frustrated by the rigid enforcement of anti-virus restrictions that are now entering their fourth year, even as the rest of the world has opened up.
The southern technological manufacturing center of Shenzhen said Saturday that commuters no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result to use public transport or when entering pharmacies, parks and tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, the capital Beijing said Friday that negative test results are also no longer required for public transport from Dec. 5. However, a negative result obtained within the past 48 hours is still required to enter venues like shopping malls, which have gradually reopened with many restaurants and eateries providing takeout services.
The requirement has led to complaints from some Beijing residents that even though the city has shut many testing stations, most public venues still require COVID-19 tests.
The government reported 33,018 domestic infections found in the past 24 hours, including 29,085 with no symptoms.
As the rest of the world has learned to live with the virus, China remains the only major nation still sticking to a “zero-COVID” strategy which aims to isolate every infected person. The policy, which has been in place since the pandemic started, led to snap lockdowns and mass-testing across the country.
China still imposes mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers to the country, even as its infection numbers are low compared to its 1.4 billion population.
The recent demonstrations, the largest and most widely spread in decades, erupted Nov. 25 after a fire in an apartment building in the northwestern city of Urumqi killed at least 10 people.
That set off angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus of public frustration.
The country saw several days of protests across various cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, with protesters demanding an easing of COVID-19 curbs. Some demanded Chinese President Xi Jinping step down, an extraordinary show of public dissent in a society over which the ruling Communist Party exercises near total control.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the cost and disruption of controls but says it will stick with “zero-COVID.” Health experts and economists expect it to stay in place at least until mid-2023 and possibly into 2024 while millions of older people are vaccinated in preparation for lifting controls that keep most visitors out of China.
While the government has conceded some mistakes, blamed mainly on overzealous officials, criticism of government policies can result in punishment. Former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who plays for a Chinese team, was recently fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for criticizing conditions in team quarantine facilities, according to local media reports.
On Friday, World Health Organization emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said that the UN agency was “pleased” to see China loosening some of its coronavirus restrictions, saying “it’s really important that governments listen to their people when the people are in pain.”


Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Updated 03 December 2022

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

  • Capture of the town would have limited operational value
  • But it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk

Russia is likely planning to encircle the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south, Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
The capture of the town would have limited operational value but it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the ministry added in a daily intelligence update.
“There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia,” the ministry said in the update posted on Twitter.


UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

Updated 03 December 2022

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

  • Military-installed government using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition
  • At least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military-installed government has sentenced more critics to death, bringing the total to 139, and is using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition, the UN high commissioner for human rights said Friday.
High Commissioner Volker Turk said at least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday, and there are reports that as many as four more youth activists were sentenced on Thursday.
“The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality,” Turk said in a statement. “Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency contrary to the most basic due process or fair trial guarantees.”
The military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s action was met with widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts have characterized as civil war.
Turk said the military-installed government has arrested nearly 16,500 people for opposing the army takeover, including about 1,700 who have been convicted in secret courts without access to lawyers.
The Students’ Union of Dagon University in Yangon, the country’s largest city, announced Thursday on its Facebook page that seven university students between the ages of 18 and 24 who were arrested on April 21 had been sentenced to death Wednesday by a military court in Yangon’s Insein Prison.
An executive member of the Dagon University Students’ Union told The Associated Press that the seven were accused of links to an urban guerrilla group opposed to military rule and convicted of murder for allegedly taking part in shooting a bank branch manager in April.
In late July, the government hanged four political activists, in the country’s first executions in at least three decades.
The hangings prompted condemnations from Western nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to defuse the crisis with a five-point plan that the military government has failed to implement.
“By resorting to use death sentences as a political tool to crush opposition, the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military,” Turk said.


US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

Updated 03 December 2022

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

MOSCOW: Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the scale of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), has sworn an oath of allegiance to Russia and received a Russian passport, TASS reported on Friday.
“Yes, he got [a passport], he took the oath,” Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, told the state news agency TASS.
“This is still a criminal investigative matter,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday, referring any questions about the report on Snowden to the US Department of Justice, which declined to comment.
US authorities have for years wanted Snowden returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.
President Vladimir Putin in September granted Russian citizenship to Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking secret files that revealed the extensive eavesdropping activities of the United States and its allies.
“I’m in Russia because the White House intentionally canceled my passport to trap me here. They downed the President of Bolivia’s diplomatic aircraft to prevent me from leaving, and continue to interfere with my freedom of movement to this day,” Snowden, 39, said on Twitter on Friday, referring to events from 2013.
Snowden was referring an incident in July 2013, when Bolivia complained that its presidential jet carrying Evo Morales from Russia to Bolivia had been rerouted and forced to land in Austria over suspicion that Snowden was on board.
Defenders of Snowden hail him as a modern-day dissident for exposing the extent of US spying and alleged violation of privacy. Opponents say he is a traitor who endangered lives by exposing the secret methods that Western spies use to listen in on hostile states and militants.


EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

Updated 02 December 2022

EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine should be withdrawn from sale
  • "Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction"

THE HAGUE: Cough medicines containing the chemical pholcodine should be banned due to the risk of potentially deadly allergic reactions in people under general anaesthetic, the European Union’s drug regulator said Friday.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine, which is used in adults and children to treat dry coughs, should be withdrawn from sale.
“Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction” to muscle relaxants in the anaesthetic, the Amsterdam-based watchdog said.
Anaphylactic shock is a “sudden, severe and life-threatening allergic reaction,” it added.
Medicines with the chemical were “being withdrawn from the EU market and will therefore no longer be available by prescription or over the counter.”
Opioid-based pholcodine has been used as a cough medicine since the 1950s.
Medicines containing the chemical are currently authorized in the EU countries of Belgium, Croatia, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia, under brand names including Dimetane, Biocalyptol and Broncalene.
France had said in September that pholcodine could be banned due to the risk of allergies.
In April 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a dry cough was one of the main symptoms of the disease, French authorities had recommended against the use of syrups with pholcodine.
The EMA in January had recommended updating packaging to warn of the risk of allergies, based on new data.