Culture takes a back seat


Al-Jazirah newspaper

THOUGH they are two separate authorities that were approved on the same day, one of them quickly picked up, took a smooth and fast track while the other was still groping in the dark trying to find its path.

The Entertainment Authority ran fast and made a number of achievements that have been noticed by all the people. On the contrary, the Culture Authority has not made any move that might reassure society or the intellectuals.

Since it was attached to the Ministry of Information and Culture, the word culture had become alien to the ministry (which had nothing to do with culture in the first place) and it remained just in its name without any meaning.

The ministry had made no achievements regarding culture except hosting the Riyadh International Book Fair, which used to be an independent activity organized by the autonomous King Saud University.

The university handed over the responsibility of organizing the fair to the now-defunct Ministry of Higher Education, which in turn gave it to the Ministry of Culture and Information.

So the fair was a finished product that the ministry had received in complete shape and it did not add anything worthwhile to it.

Culture, as we know it with its arts and thoughts, never existed in our country in spite of the large number of Saudi intellectuals who have been recognized on both regional and international levels.

Our intellectual space, which has not represented culture in its broader meaning, will remain void and incomplete even if entertainment has filled it. We spent many years endeavoring to formulate a strategy for national culture since the time of Iyad Madani, who was at the helm of the Ministry of Culture and Information in its new name.

Madani had invited many intellectuals to discuss the strategy, which has been gathering dust with all its dreams and ambitions in the ministry’s shelves ever since.

What will the Culture Authority do in this case? Is it going to shake off the dust or dump it over the walls?

Will the ministry try to steal some limelight from the Entertainment Authority and chase it to collect what remained of entertainment to compete with it?

Will the ministry direct all its efforts and resources toward the cinema on the premise of it being a new activity though it has been a public demand for quite a long time? If it does so, shall we call it a culture authority or cinema authority?

Culture in its wider meaning is not just cinema or the movie industry. It is much broader than this and embodies arts, sculpture, painting, music and other activities.

If anyone argues that the goals of culture had been realized through literary clubs and societies of art and culture in various parts of our country, we will tell him that this is not correct.

We live in an age in which our ambitions have changed and we started looking for quality activities.

What has the Saudi publishing industry achieved for Saudi writers? What we call Saudi books are actually printed in printing houses in other Arab countries and brought here in our name. What has the Saudi theater, whether professional or amateur, achieved for the theater arts?

What has the visual art, including painting and photography, achieved in the art market?

What have we achieved in the world of books for children, which are supposed to entertain and educate them?

Where are the cultural centers and the public libraries in the districts and neighborhoods? All these are unending questions we direct toward the Culture Authority.