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Workers at the National Museum of Qatar. Photo: Philipus / Alamy.

Middle East’s Cultural Sector Fears Repercussions of Qatar Boycott

Last month, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE suspended diplomatic relations and trade with Qatar, as it has been accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that the countries claim is a terrorist group. Yemen, the Maldives, and Libya have become part of the diplomatic boycott as well. Now many within the Middle East fear that cultural partnerships and institutions could be affected by the restrictions, report Gareth Harris and Aimee Dawson of the Art Newspaper.

For fifteen years, Qatar Museums have pushed to make Doha, the country’s capital, a major cultural hub. The Museum of Islamic Art and the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, both in Qatar, have historically had positive cultural relations with the neighboring countries. The director of Mathaf, Abdellah Karroum, has said that he is not allowed to comment on the situation on behalf of the Jean Nouvel–designed museum, which is scheduled to open in December of next year. Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, based in an emirate of Sharjah, said to the Associated Press in June that “Doha is now completely isolated. Doha now needs to take serious steps very rapidly to placate not only its neighbors but also its allies around the world.” The foundation loaned a number of artworks to an exhibition featuring Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi at Doha’s Qatar Museums Gallery. An arts professional in Doha, speaking anonymously, said that family ties take precedence over politics: “If political relations were severed for any period of time, the close family connections across the region would act as a continued link. It is too early to predict the impact on cultural cooperation initiatives; at the moment, everything is continuing as normal,” she said.

A commercial dealer, also speaking anonymously, said that even though flights between the Gulf countries and Qatar have been cut, artworks can still be flown into Qatar via London and other cities. The UAE, however, is threatening up to fifteen years imprisonment for anyone who expresses compassion for Qatar on social media, according to the dealer. The Gulf allies have asked Qatar to meet thirteen demands, among them being the shutdown of the Al Jazeera broadcast network. Qatar has until midnight today, July 4, to meet these demands.

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