Explore the Middle East's artistic heritage and contemporary cultural scenes, featuring a curated selection of intriguing artworks, cultural insights, and educational resources. These resources are updated weekly, so stay tuned for more updates!

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January 2, 2023

Egypt repatriates looted ancient Green Coffin sarcophagus from US

The “Green Coffin”, a three metre (9.5 feet) ancient wooden sarcophagus with a brightly painted top surface, has been returned to Egypt from the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences in the United States, following the conclusion of US authorities determined it had been looted.

Manhattan District Attorney’s Alvin L Bragg determined that the sarcophagus was looted from the Abu Sir Necropolis, and smuggled into the US in 2008 via Germany. “This stunning coffin was trafficked by a well-organised network that has looted countless antiquities from the region,” Bragg said at the time. “We are pleased that this object will be returned to Egypt, where it rightfully belongs.”

According to the top official at Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, the sarcophagus dates back to the Late Dynastic Period of ancient Egypt, an era spanning from the last Pharaonic rules in 664 BC until Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC. He added that it may have belonged to an ancient priest named Ankhenmaat, though some of the inscriptions on it have been erased.

It was symbolically handed over at a ceremony following a news conference on Monday in Cairo by Daniel Rubinstein, the US chargé d’affaires in Egypt. The ceremony was attended by Egypt’s Minister of Tourism and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.  “A precious piece of Egypt’s history was recovered after cooperation with our friends in the US, and after efforts that lasted for several years,” the Foreign Minister said while attending the ceremony.

The return comes as the Egyptian government is seeking to assist its tourism industry through the return of such historical artefacts. In 2021 alone, the Egyptian government succeeded in getting 5,300 stolen artefacts returned to Egypt from across the world, of which 16 were returned from the Metropolitan Museum last September.

January 4, 2023

Iran releases a top actress who was held for criticising the crackdown on protests

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency reported that Taraneh Alidoosti, the 38-year old star of the Oscar-willing 2016 film, “The Salesman” was released on bail from the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran after 3-weeks of imprisonment.

Prior to her arrest, she created 3 posts on her instagram (which had 8 million followers prior to its termination) expressing solidarity with the enduring anti-regime protests in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini last September, and deploring the government’s violent crackdown.

Alidoosti had previously criticised the Islamic Republic government in 2018, in relation to a police officer who assaulted a woman who removed her headscarf: "Every international organisation who is watching this bloodshed and not taking action, is a disgrace to humanity."

Alidoosti is among two other major Iranian actresses, the others being Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi, to be arrested and released by the regime in November. It indicates that the regime is threatened by the ability of cultural and artistic icons to communicate with their vast fan-base to mobilise them politically. 

In “The Salesman” Alidoosti played a woman whose relationship with her husband collapsed after she was sexually assaulted in their apartment. 

January 5, 2023

FIFA names first female international referee from Saudi Arabia

FIFA has named Anoud Al-Asmari, alongside 8 other members of the Saudi Football Federation to serve as international referees.  

Al-Asmari is the first and only Saudi woman to be appointed to the position, just after the Saudi National Women’s Team made their first debut less than a year ago. “I am happy to be the first Saudi female referee to receive the international badge in the history of Saudi sports,” Al-Asmari, told the AFP news agency.

Al-Asmari began her career in 2018 as a referee within Saudi Arabia, overseeing a string of matches involving the Saudi National Women’s Team.

This comes as the Kingdom is taking an increasing interest in football/soccer, having applied to host the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup and remains the sole-bidder for the 2027 men’s version. It is also considering a joint-bid for the 2030 World Cup alongside Greece and Egypt.

January 6, 2023

Basra excited ahead of Arabian Gulf Cup tournament kickoff

On the heels of international enthusiasm for the 2022 World Cup held in Qatar, the 25th Edition of the Arabian Gulf Cup began on Friday in the southern Iraqi-port city and commercial hub of Basra. 

It is the first time that Iraq has hosted the tournament since 1979, and is being praised as a positive opportunity for Iraq to emerge from its isolation and association with civil instability and sectarian conflict.

Aside from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates shall be participating in the footballing/soccer event, which will conclude on the 19th of January.

The tournament is a sign of hope for the country’s relationship with the neighbouring GCC member states, with which it was well integrated until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991. 

Friday’s matches were held in the recently renovated Basra International Stadium between Oman and Iraq (0-0), followed by Saudi Arabia and Yemen (2-0).

January 20, 2023 

Sculptor Michael Rakowitz calls on British Museum to Return Iraqi Artefacts

In a letter to the British Museum, Iraqi-American Sculptor Michael Rakowitz has proposed that the institution return one of its two Assyrian-era lamassu sculptures to Iraq, in exchange for the donation of his fourth plinth sculpture to the Tate Modern (albeit on the condition that it shares custody over the artwork with Iraq).

Rakowitz said that returning the lamassu sculpture, which was first discovered in Iraq by Victorian archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard, would help replace the 700BC lamassu that had stood at the Nergal Gate in Nineveh that was deliberately destroyed by ISIS fighters in 2015. The proposal is said to be on the agenda of Iraq’s Minister of Culture, Ahmed Fakkak, when he is expected to visit London next month and receive a tour of the British Museum.

January 17, 2023 

Construction to begin on new Beirut Museum of Art 

Evacuation for the new 129,000-square-foot Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA) is expected to begin this February. The museum, which stemmed from a series of pop-up exhibitions in Lebanon and the United States, was conceived over a decade ago, and is expected to be fully completed by 2026. The construction of BeMA comes at a time when Lebanon is facing a severe socioeconomic and political crisis, and the project is being perceived as a necessity by the Lebanese art community in view of preserving Lebanese cultural heritage in the face of these challenges.

The institute is set to hold in its permanent collection a total of 1,275 works dating from 2001 to the late nineteenth century, with special focus given to paintings, sculptures, and works on paper produced between the period of 1950 to 1975. The works will be drawn from a larger pool of over 2,400 little or never-seen before 

artefacts held by the Lebanese government over the past century, many of which have been stored in poor conditions, and therefore need rehabilitation and restoration work.

January 17, 2023 

Armenian Museum Reopens in Jerusalem

Formerly an orphanage built in the 19th century inside the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Mardigian Museum has reopened following an extensive 5-year restoration project. It is set to hold a series of Khachkars, which are intricately carved stone crosses that are icons of Armenian cultural heritage, alongside painted tiles, mosaics, and priestly vestments. 

A key artefact on display in the museum’s courtyard is a mosaic piece from the 5th or 6th century featuring exoting birds and fruit vines, which was discovered in 1894 on the grounds of an ancient Armenian monastery complex. It holds an inscription in the Armenian language dedicated to “the memorial and salvation of all Armenians whose names the Lord knows.”

Importantly, the museum shall also serve as a memorial to the 1.5 million Armenians who were systematically murdered by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, a historical fact which is still denied by the Turkish government. The descendants of refugees who fled Turkish persecution have since added to the Armenian community in Jerusalem, which itself dates back to the period of Roman-rule over the area.

January 20, 2023 

Arab Artists Celebrated in Saudi 'Joy Awards'

The MENA region’s largest ceremony to honour and spotlight Arab artists, the ‘Joy Awards’, took place on Saturday in the Bakr Al-Sheddi Theatre of the Saudi capital of Riyadh, under the auspices of the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority. The process of nominations was accomplished through a system of public voting.

Both male and female figures from across various genres and categories were nominated during the event. One such nominee was Madeeha Ahmed, an actress of Syrian descent, who was nominated for the ‘Favourite New Face Award’ for a TV series.

The ceremony took place in the presence of several international stars, such as Georgina Rodriguez, Mel Gibson, Sofia Vergara, and Michael Bay. In addition to hosting several celebrity singers from across the Arab World, such as Nancy Ajram, Ahmed Helmy, Amr Diab, and Mona Zaki, with recognition also given to an additional 200 Arab personalities, such as athletes, social media personalities, and screen actors.

January 23, 2023

Sally Azar to become first female Palestinian pastor in Jerusalem

In a historical moment for the integration of Arab women into church life, the Church of the Redeemer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land officially ordained Sally Azar in a ceremony within East Jerusalem. She will henceforth be responsible for bridging the Arabic-speaking and English-speaking worshippers during sermons and engaging in youth-related works. Azar has become the first Palestinian to join the ranks of five other ordained women in the Middle East, joining one other in Syria and three in Lebanon, according to the Middle East Council of Churches. She is part of the Protestant community, which exists as a small minority amongst the 47,000 other Christains who reside within Gaza and the West Bank.

January 25, 2023

Aden Revisits its Connection with Shakespeare

The port city of Aden hosted a performance of William Shakespear’s Hamlet, in a rare organised cultural display since Yemen plunged into its ongoing civil war. Director Amr Gamal of the Khaleej Aden Theatre Troupe feared that there may have been “limited interest” in the occasion, but is now planning a second round after a resounding success. Support for the play came from the British Council, which assisted in helping overcome the lack of resources for artistic expressions in view of the war.

The play was first translated into classical Arab and then into Aden’s dialect to provide it with a local twist, with characters wearing traditional Yemeni clothing. For over a century Shakespearean works have been performed in Yemen, and this event can be seen as an attempt to revive this cultural connection, as well as provide an opportunity for Yemenis to engage in artistic expressions.

January 29, 2023

Saudi Arabia Embraces the 54th Cairo International Book Fair

The 54th Cairo International Book Fair shall be running until February 6th, and shall involve more than 1,000 individual publishers and authors from around 50 countries, while an excess of 500 cultural events will be held on the sidelines of the event. Amongst the participants is the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives, a Saudi enterprise, whose pavilion will include 85 titles on Islamic legal sciences, the geography of Saudi Arabia, works on Saudi-Egyptian relations, the writings of travellers on the heritage of the Arabian Peninsula, and works which focus on the history of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Thus far, the platform has attracted widespread appeal, and is seen as being part of Saudi Arabia’s wider public relations strategy in showcasing its care for Muslims. 

January 29, 2023

Egyptian soprano, Bocelli-Jameel recipient Laura Mekhail charms Jeddah

Laura Mekhail has become the first Arab woman to receive the Bocelli Foundation-Community Jameel Scholarship, following her performance on the Hayy Jameel stage in Jeddah. The scholarship was established in 2019 with the purpose of supporting emerging talents to study opera at the Royal College of Music in London. Mekhail’s performance included a mixture of works from Europe and the Arab World, featuring works by Mozart, Handel, and Fairuz, among numerous others.

Her career began with performances at the Cairo Opera House, followed by a period of artistic study at the West Virginia Wesleyan College, during which she was a member of the cappella choir and worked alongside Dan Hughes, the director of Choral Activities, and for whom she credits greatly for influencing her style of vocals. 

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February 19, 2023

SAUDI ARTISTS CELEBRATE COUNTRY'S FOUNDATION WITH PERSONALISED EXHIBITS

While Saudi Arabia commemorated the 300th occasion of its foundation as a kingdom this month, domestic artists, including Awatef Al-Safwan and Noor Alsaif, likewise produced an exhibit entitled "The Beginning."

The exhibit, aimed at capturing the moment when each of these individuals first decided to become artists, hosted a plethora of unique works, including Al-Safwan's "Our Sand Our Heritage", which was painted in part with sand from her hometown utilising the Indonesian batik technique.

February 22, 2023

SAUDI WOMEN'S TEAM PARTICIPATES IN TENNIS TOURNAMENT FOR THE FIRST TIME

 In a major milestone for women's participation in sport in Saudi Arabia, a 4-person women's team represented the Arab Gulf monarchy in the Asia/Oceania pre-qualifying event of the Billie Jean King Cup Juniors in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The event, hosted under the auspices of the International Tennis Federation, was met by extremely high enthusiasm from the team, who spoke readily of their pride in representing the kingdom. Captain Areej Farah was quoted as saying: “this is an amazing experience, and it is so empowering.”

February 23, 2023

U.S. GOVERNMENT REPATRIATES 77 LOOTED ARTEFACTS TO YEMEN

The returned artefacts, many of which linked to Mousi Khouli (a convicted smuggler) per the U.S. Department of Justice, include Quranic folios from the 9th century and 65 funerary stones dating back to the second half of the first millennium BC.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of Art will be entrusted as the custodian of the artefacts however, as a result of Yemen's ongoing civil war, per an agreement between the Smithsonian and the Yemeni government.

February 25, 2023 

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL SHOWCASES YEMENI STRUGGLES

Director Amr Gamal's piece "The Burdened" will be the first Yemeni film of its kind to be displayed in the Berlinale Film Festival. The film follows the struggles of a married couple in Yemen presently suffering from extensive poverty, political instability, and armed conflict.

The film was shot in Aden, and was reportedly inspired by the experience of a married couple which Gamal knew personally. The film received critical acclaim, in addition to the Amnesty International Film Award.

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‘TERHAL’ THEATRE PERFORMANCE OPENS IN RIYADH

MARCH 4 — The Saudi Ministry of Culture and the Las-Vegas based theatre show company Dragone, unveiled a new performance in Riyadh called ‘Terhal’, which features physical stunts alongside a display of traditional Saudi art and music, including a troupe of 25 Saudi dances known as shabab. 

The act, which is a collaboration between 60 international performers and 60 Saudi artists, follows the travels of a student named Sa’ad, as he encounters protagonists and enemies, and eventually comes to realise the value of the country’s heritage to its future. 

ART DUBAI’S 16TH EDITION TAKES PLACE

MARCH 3 — The Art Dubai festival opened its doors to the Emirati public at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai for its 2023 edition. In comparison with its previous 15 iterations, it is set to contain and exhibit its largest collection of artistic works yet, including 130 contemporary, modern, and digital galleries across six-continents, including items from 30 first-time participants.

The event lasted until the 5th of March, and had a special focus on spotlighting works from the global south, such as via the ‘Experminer’ exhibit from Kolkata, which featured Afghan photographer and digital artist Aziz Hazara, the Bangladeshi relief and materials artist Ayesha Sultana, and the Indian abstract artist Praneet Soi.

NEW CORRIDOR IN THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA OBSERVED FOR FIRST TIME

MARCH 3  — Egyptian antiquities authorities have confirmed the existence of a hidden corridor within the Great Pyramid of Giza, per a video collected by an endoscope which showed the interior of the corridor. The corridor, which was initially detached using an image technique termed muography in 2016, is 9m (30ft) long and 2.1m (7ft) wide.

It is said that the corridor was constructed to redistribute the internal weight of the pyramid near the main entrance, or perhaps that of a potentially undiscovered chamber. Leading Egyptian archeologist Zahi Hawass stated that the corridor was a “major discovery”, which may assist in revealing if the burial chamber of King Khufu still existed within the Pyramid.

SAUDI ARTIST MOHAMMED AL-MONIF OPENS NEW RIYADH EXHIBIT

MARCH 3  On the invitation of Princess Adwa Yazid Bin Abdallah, the founder of the L’Art Pur Foundation in Riyadh, Mohammed A-Monif hosted 44 of his most recent paintings in an exhibition titled “As I See.” In the event, Al-Monif is set to focus on his personal interpretations of spatial usage in natural landscapes, such as the Tuwaiq Mountains of Najd.

Through this activity, Al-Monif seeks to provide answers to the question of the nature and purpose of art in Saudi Arabia, expressing controversially during the exhibit that: “Saudi fine art is now under threat as the very essence of it, which relies heavily on sensory experiences, is promoting ideas rather than visuals.”  “As I See” is set to last until March 23.

HIJRAH DOCUMENTARY PREMIERS AT JEDDAH’S ISLAMIC ARTS BIENNALE

MARCH 12 The documentary, entitled “In the Footsteps of the Prophet”, was produced by award-winning filmmaker Ovidio Salazar, and constitutes the first cinematic display of the Prophet Mohammad’s journey (or Hijrah) from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. It was produced with the assistance of Dr. Abdullah Alkadi, who personally charted and walked the Prophet’s journey using an array of locational equipment, who used his findings to endow the film with the greatest degree of accuracy. 

The Hijrah, which took place over the course of 8-days, is one of the most seminal moments in the history of Islam, and represents the point at which Islam began to consolidate itself politically and socially in the Arabian peninsula.

‘SMILING SPHINX’ DISCOVERED IN EGYPT

MARCH 7  — The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of a miniature sphinx statue “with a smiley face and two dimples” within the vicinity of the Hathor Temple, close to the city of Qena. Carved in limestone, the statute is believed to be an impersonation of the Roman Emperor Claudius. A Roman stele, inscribed with demotic script and hieroglyphics was also discovered alongside the sphinx.

Previously, the Hathor Temple witnessed the uncovering of an astronomical map called the Dendera Zodiac, which has been displayed in the Paris Louvre since 1922, however not without Egyptian calls for its return to the country. 

SAMIR SAYEGH’S ART DISPLAYED IN JORDANIAN NATIONAL GALLERY

MARCH 8  — The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, in conjunction with the Jordanian-Lebanese Association, began hosting an artistic venue focusing on the works of Samir Sayegh, a Lebanese artist specialising in Arabic calligraphy. The showcasing will is set to conclude on May 20.

Born in Beirut in 1945, Sayegh was a key proponent of the contemporary ‘Hurufiyya’ artistic movement, which emerged in the Arab World in the 1970s and 1980s, and was notable for its abstract modernist take on Arabic calligraphy. As part of the exhibit, Sayegh is set to reconnect with this legacy in delivering a lecture entitled “Innovation in Arabic Calligraphy.”  

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S ART FORUM HELD IN EGYPT

MARCH 8  — As part of the International Women’s Art Forum held in the city of Hurghada, the Queen’s Exhibition opened on March 8 in the ancient Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, showcasing plastic artworks of famous female royal figures from the Pharaonic period. 

The event is taking place under the patronage of Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and is being framed as part of Egypt’s wider goal of encouraging ‘artistic’ tourism in the Red Sea region. The event involved 30 female artists from 14 different countries, involving Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Italy, Greece and France.

JORDANIAN NATIONAL GALLERY SEEKS TO TACKLE DISABILITY STIGMAS 

MARCH 13  — Building off a research and artist project by the University of Birmingham, the Jordanian National Gallery inaugurated an exhibition which aims to document the lived experiences and struggles of six differently-abled youths in Jordan. The exhibit ended on March 19.

The Jordanian government has taken steps to improve the social integration of differently-abled Jordanians, however negative and dismissive stereotypes have remained prevalent within society. In this context, the core of the exhibition involved providing camera’s to these individuals, who used them to photograph their everyday lives and personal hobbies, with a view towards fostering understanding and acceptance between the differently-abled and non-disabled Jordanians. 

MISK ART INSTITUTE HOSTS NEW EXHIBIT IN RIYADH 

MARCH 15  — Riyadh saw the opening of a new art exhibit titled “Brand New Ancients” by the Misk Art Institute, focusing on the historical and contemporary usage of material and textures within art. The event will last until June 15, and is hosting the work of up to 17 artists from numerous countries, including Canada, Lebanon, Italy, Qatar, and Mexico. 

A highlight of the event will include the showing of “Mountain 1”, a mosaic piece constructed from fragments of lapis lazuli, which was created by the Pakistani-Kuwaiti artist Hamra Abbas. The artwork, which seeks to represent K2, the second highest mountain in the world, made notable use of the ‘pietra dura’ technique which emerged during the period of Islamic-Mughal rule in the Indian subcontinent.

NATURE-INSPIRED ART EXHIBITION OPENS IN QATAR

MARCH 19  — The exhibition, called “Curious Desert” opened on March 19 under the recently built Qatar Museum, in the Al-Thakhira Mangrove Reserve as well as in the National Museum of Qatar in Doha. Created by artist Olafur Eliasson, the exhibition seeks to highlight Eliasson’s work in respect to the usage of light, geometry, ecological consciousness and non-human creation. 

The exhibit at the Al-Thakhira Mangrove Reserve will consist of twelve pavilions, involving artworks which take advantage of light optics such as mirrors, rainbows and shadows. Sheikha Al-Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Chairperson of Qatar Museums, highlighted how the exhibition “opens an important dialogue about the environment” in the context of art’s importance as a mechanism which emphasises the value of the natural world.

BAGHDAD HOLDS 12TH INTERNATIONAL FLOWER FESTIVAL

MARCH 19  — The Al-Zawraa Park in Baghdad witnessed the opening of the 12th International Flower Festival, with an inaugural speech from the incumbent Mayor of Iraq’s capital, Ammar Musa. The event itself has been organised annually by the Municipality of Baghdad since 2009.

In his speech, Musa emphasised the pacifist and humanitarian message of flowers, and contextualised the municipality’s most recent efforts in view of increasing the amount of green space within Baghdad’s urban space, as well as the importance of ensuring that existing public gardens do not fall into neglect and disrepair.

EMIRATI LEADERSHIP ANNOUNCES MEAL ENDOWMENT FOR THIS RAMADAN

MARCH 20 — The Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Makhtoum, announced the creation of a ‘One Billion Meals Endowment’ project, with a view to providing hundreds of millions of meals to socioeconomically disadvantaged and food-insecure individuals within the UAE and other Muslim-majority countries.

The plan itself was framed in the context of the Holy Month of Ramadan, which began on March 23rd, within charity charitable giving and good works is an integral aspect, in addition to the fasting itself. Furthermore, the programme will assist the UAE in fulfilling its obligations under the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, and enhance its international humanitarian standing.

SHEIKHA FATIMA BINT HAZZA HONORED AT ARAB WOMEN AWARDS

MARCH 21 — Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza, a member of the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi, received praise during the eighth edition Arab Women Award ceremony held in London. Among her philanthropic efforts cited during this recognition included assisting in facilitating greater education access in Bangladesh and Kenya, as well as financially supporting Emirati women to acquire higher education internationally via the Fatima Bint Hazza Fund. 

Additionally, the awards recognised her important role in increasing the visibility of Arab women in the regional and Emirati sports scene, through her service as the incumbent chairwomen of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sport Academy, an organization dedicated to enhancing the participation of Arab women in the Emirati and regional sports scene, including in chess and track events. 

RAND ABDUL JABBAR RECEIVES RICHARD MILLE ART PRIZE

MARCH 21 — Iraqi artist, Rand Abdul Jabbar, received the prize from the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum,  in recognition of her exhibit titled ‘Earthly Wonders, Celestial Beings’, which featured over 100 ceramic objects, whose design was inspired from Iraq’s ancient artistic and architectural heritage. The exhibit itself has been consistently running since 2019, and was placed on the 2022 ‘Art Here’ show in Abu Dhabi. 

The Richard Mille Art Prize is itself a collaboration between the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Swiss Watchmaker of the same name, and consists of an artistic grant of 60,000 USD.  

AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN CRICKET MATCH ENDS IN AFGHAN VICTORY 

MARCH 25 — For the first time, the Afghan National Cricket Team beat their Pakistani counterparts in a round of T20 Cricket. The victory, secured by a difference of six-wickets in favor of Afghanistan, took place in the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in the United Arab Emirates.

Pakistan was playing at a disadvantage, with the absence of some of its most experienced openers, with most of its batters falling to soft dismissals.

KHADIJA EL-MARDI SETS RECORD AT BOXING CHAMPIONSHIP

MARCH 26 — Khadija El-Mardi has become the first Arab and African woman to receive an international gold medal in boxing. The Moroccan competitor won the heavyweight medal after defeating Kazakhstan’s Lazzat Kungeibayeva during the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championship of 2023, which took place in New Delhi. All members on the competition’s judgment panel voted in favor of El-Mardi’s performance, making this historic win unanimous.

Previously, El-Mardi received the gold medal in boxing during the 2019 African Games held in Rabat, and the 2022 African Championships in Mozambique. Another Moroccan woman, Yasmine Moutaqui, also secured another medal, as she and Kazakhstan’s Alua Balkibekova both received bronze.

INDONESIA LOSES UNDER-20 WORLD CUP HOSTING RIGHTS 

MARCH 29 — Indonesia has been stripped of its right to host the Under-20 World Cup tournament, which was set to take place in six-stadiums within the country, following a meeting between FIFA officials and the President of the Indonesian Football Federation (PSSI), Erick Thohir. A new host country is set to be selected “as soon as possible”, with the view of hosting the event from May 20.

The issue arose due to the planned participation of the Israeli football team, which spurred mass protests that pressured the governor of Hindu-majority Bali to cancel the tournament in question. Indonesia has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel, and the protests themselves have been organized in the context of widespread sympathies with the Palestinian cause.

KUWAITI ARTIST WIN’S ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST ART PRIZES

MARCH 30 — Alia Farid, an artist of Kuwaiti-Puerto Rican origin, received the Lise Wilhelmsen Art Award from the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter art museum in Norway. The prize itself includes a 100,000 USD grant, as well as an exhibition of her work at the museum, which will commence in 2024.

Farid’s work often focuses on connections between the ecology, politics and history of the Arab Gulf region. For example, during the 2022 Whitney Biennial, she sculptured artifacts resembling artificial palm trees, in what effectively a memorial to the palm groves which once covered large areas of southern Iraq until the Iran-Iraq war. Likewise, her 2018 piece entitled ‘Contrary Life’ spotlighted the uniqueness of Gulf flora, highlighting an ecological diversity which is seldom associated with the region.

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CHARITABLE ESPORTS FESTIVAL RETURNS TO SAUDI ARABIA

APRIL 1 — ‘Gamers Without Borders’, the world’s largest charitable esports festival, announced that it will be returning to Saudi Arabia on April 27th for the fourth-consecutive year. The event, which will be held virtually from Jeddah, is also set to host a 10 million USD charitable endowment fund, which will be used for altruist and humanitarian purposes internationally. Previously, the last three iterations of the festival collected above 30 million USD for Covid-19 assistance, including the distribution of vaccines.

Incumbent chairperson of the Saudi Esports Federation, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, highlighted that the event will have an all-female component, and that one of the most valued features of gaming and esports is its spirit of impartiality between participants, without any biases. 

NALIA GALLERY EXHIBITION REFLECTS ON RAMADAN

APRIL 3 — The Riyadh-based Nalia Gallery announced the inauguration of the Qur’aniyat (or Quranic) exhibition, which is set to conclude on April 12th. The gallery itself includes a total of over 30 curated art pieces from 19 calligraphic artists, with a particular theme focusing on spirutality, Islamic artistic heritage, Arabic calligraphy and Quranic verses.

In the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan, the gallery is aiming to spotlight the connection between religious worship and artistic expression and the duality of these expressions. Amongst the involved artists, Rashid Al-Dabas has made especially unique use of wool yarn, intricately tying the material around a wooden frame to form the word “Allah.”

ASSOULINE RELEASES TWO NEW TITLES ON SAUDI CULTURE

APRIL 4 — In collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture, the US-based luxury publisher Assouline has released two new titles; “Saudi Coffee: The Culture of Hospitality” and “Saudi Dates: A Portrait of the Sacred Fruit.” The former was written by Maher Al-Nammary, a chef, culinary educator and hospitality professional, who documents the process of coffee growth and processing from its seedling stage. Coffee is itself an integral part of Saudi hospitality and cuisine.

The latter book consists of a collection of photographs and illustrations of date fruit and the date harvesting process, using the works of painter Rafael Alterio and Saudi photographer Ayoub Alsuhaibani. Saudi Arabia is the one of the worlds foremost world producers, and is home to the largest date palm grove in the world, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

CHINESE-ARAB ART FESTIVAL OPENS IN CAIRO

APRIL 4 — The Cairo Opera House opened its doors to the “Silk Road Artists Rendezvous” exhibition, a platform showcasing artworks from both China and Arab League member states, including Egypt and Algeria. The opening ceremony was attended by China’s ambassador to Egypt, as well as the visiting Chinese Minister of Culture and Tourism. 

The exhibitions works, many of which combine Arab and Chinese artistic methods and themes, is aimed at spotlighting the historical cultural, artistic and commercial ties which existed between China and the Arab World during the period of the Silk Road; which spanned much of Eurasia. 

EGYPT LOANS SARCOPHAGUS TO PARISIAN EXHIBITION

APRIL 7 — The Sarcophagus of Ramses II, the Pharaoh of ancient Egupt from 1276 and 1213 BC, has been temporarily loaned by the Egyptian government, in order to be showcased at the Grande Halle de la Villette museum exhibition in Paris from April 7th to April 12th. The mummified corpse of Ramses II however, is set to remain in Egypt. 

Egypt’s incumbent ambassador to France described the move as “exceptional” and a hallmark in the relationship between the two countries. The loan itself, which also includes several other artifacts and ornaments, was made in gratitude to the assistance French scientists provided in treating Ramses II’s mummy against fungus during its 1976 exhibition in Paris.

FIRST ARABIC CALLIGRAPHY EXHIBIT HELD IN NEW BRUNSWICK

APRIL 10 — Artist Hala Ali held the first public exhibit in Arabic Calligraphy in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, which is set to run until the end of April. Having settled in Canada in 2012, Hala is of Tunisian origin, with a specialisation in using numerous textured canvases, created by acrylic paints or plasters, to frame numerous styles of Arabic calligraphy. She creates this using brushes and bamboo sticks. 

Hala’s exhibition is being held in collaboration with the Moncton Public Library, and the Arab Culture Club, a non-profit group. Both Haba and one of the founders of the club emphasised the importance of calligraphy in building cross-cultural connections and interest through its beauty, irrespective of whether the audience understands the language.  

ONS JABEUR WINS CHARLESTON OPEN TENNIS SINGLES

APRIL 11 — In a WTA 500 tennis tournament in Charlestone against Belinda Bencic, who played on behalf of Switzerland, Ons Jabeur won decisively (7-6, 6-4). The 28-year old, born in Ksar Hellal, a town in Tunisia’s Monastir Province, achieved her first major success in 2011, when she won the French Open girl’s singles title. This made her the first Arab player to win a Grand slam tournament while being a junior.

Per WTA rankings, Ons was considered the second best player in 2022, having solidified this position via participation in the finals of the Wimbledon and US Opens. 

TOMB OF ‘BANHESI’ UNCOVERED IN EGYPT

APRIL 13 — According to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, a jointly-run Dutch-Italian archaeological mission in the Saqqara archaeological area has uncovered a Ramessid-period tomb of a person called to ‘Banhesi.’ The tomb is dated from the rule of the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

Despite its small size, the tomb is notable for its numerous artifacts, especially a series of detailed and well-preserved wall inscriptions of hieroglyphics. One of these paintings found within the tomb depict ‘Banhesi’ and his wife, ‘Baya’, worshiping the female deity ‘Hathor’ and performing other religious rituals. The tomb includes a series of underground burial chambers, as well as an inner courtyard adjacent to its entrance.

ELYANNA PEFORMS FULL SET OF ARABIC AT COACHELLA

APRIL 14 — Elyanna, a 21-year old singer of Palestinian-Chilien descent, made history as the first singer to perform an entire show at Coachella in Arabic. The singer, whose legal name is Elian Marjieh, maintains strong links to her Arab heritage, and is said to have grown up in the mostly-Palestinian city of Nazareth, which is located in northern Israel. 

Elyanna’s musical pieces, such as ‘Ghareeb Alay’ and ‘Ana Lahale’, takes to blending Arabic and Western styles, and is reflective of her time spent living in the Middle East and also Los Angeles. Importantly, her performances at Coachella, scheduled for April 15 and April 22, are set to coincide with National Arab American Heritage Month, and she remains hopeful that these activities will increase exposure and interest in Arabic music. 

HAYA KHAIRAT RECOGNISED AT THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

APRIL 18 Haya Khairat, a female Egyptian filmaker, will be the first Egyptian recipient of the Angéniuex Special Encouragement Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The award is named in tribute of Pierre Angénieux, the inventor of the modern zoom lens, and is primarily aimed at recognising the contributions of rising stars across the film industry. The Award itself will give Khairat access to cutting-edge Angénieux camera technology for her upcoming works.

Khairat’s career began at the age of 16, when she began practicing professional photography, and proceeded to study at Cairo’s High Cinema Institute. Much of her work focuses on sociocultural topics within Egyptian society. In 2020 she received the Silver Lynx award at Dubai’s Lynx Awards in recognition of her efforts directing the filming and photography of the ‘Zero Tolerance Ribbon’ campaign against Female Genital Mutiliation.

NETFLIX TRAILER ON CLEOPATRA SPARKS CONTROVERSY IN EGYPT 

APRIL 18 — The release of the trailer for Netflix’s upcoming series on the life of Queen Cleopatra, specifically the depiction of the historial figure as black-skinned, has sparked certain controversies within Egypt. Lawyer Mahmoud Al-Semary filed a complaint with Egypt’s Public Prosecutor to remove Netflix from the Egyptian market, alleging that the trailer contravened local cultural norms, and promoted an Afrocentric view of Egyptian history. 

It is yet to be seen if this complaint will be successful. The release of the trailer further provoked criticism from Dr. Zahi Hawass, who previously served as the Egyptian government’s Antiquities Minister. Dr. Hawass was quoted saying: “this is completely fake. Cleopatra was Greek, meaning that she was blonde, not black.” 

RESTORED SYRIAN ARTIFACTS SHOWN IN PRAGUE

APRIL 20 — The Czech National Museum opened an exhibition on Thursday entitled “The Renewed Face,” which will feature a selection of twenty ancient Syrian artifacts, particularly from the UNESCO-world heritage site of Palymra. The pieces were transported from Syrian to Czechia in 2022 for restoration work, and included three limestone funerary inscriptions, an Ugarit bronze needle, and religious idols, all dating from 1600-1200 BCE.

The museum’s cooperation with Syria’s Directorate General for Anqituites and Museums dates to 2017, when it assisted in protecting the country’s museum collections, and restoring objects damaged by the war and by so-called Islamic State militants. 

The exhibit will last until May 10, from which point the artifacts will eventually be taken back to Syria.

LOS ANGELES EXHIBIT EXPLORES ROLE OF MENA WOMEN IN ART 

APRIL 22 — The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, otherwise called LACMA, announced a new exhibition entitled ‘Women Defining Women in Contemporary Art of the Middle East and Beyond,’ which will feature 75 separate works. The exhibit it set to focus on the role of women artists in driving forward artistic expression in the region, particularly with regard to its ongoing sociocultural and political transitions.

Out of the 42 involved artists, Laila Shawa and Huda Lutfi are significant for focusing specifically on women’s issues. Laila, a Palestinian visual artists, is set to present ‘Disposable Bodes 4 (Shahrazad),’ which pinpointing “symbolic recollections of violence.” Likewise, Hada’s ‘Red Shoes,’ speaks to the relationship between women and patriarchal Egyptian society.

NEW ROMAN CAMPS FOUND IN JORDAN 

APRIL 27 — A remote sensing survey of the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology geolocated three previously undiscovered Roman fortified camps between Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They were believed to have been linked to a possible military campaign during the Roman conquest of the Nabatean Kingdom in 106 CE, whose capital was the world-recognised city of Petra. The camps were first located by satellite using Google Earth.

Roman historiography suggests that the annexation of the Nabatean Kingdom was accomplished by a smooth transfer of power following the death of the last Nabatean king. The disovery of the camps challenges this narrative, as it suggests that Rome still needed to pacify the region, and points to a previously unknown series of Roman military campaigns in Arabia.

NUBIAN ARTWORK DISCOVERED IN SUDAN

APRIL 28 — As team of archeologists led by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw have uncovered a series of unique Christian iconography in the Sudanese city of Old Dongola. The art dates back from the existence of the Kingdom of Makuria, a Coptic dynasty of Nubian-descent, which covered a territory larger than France and Spain at its peak. 

The art includes a fresco of the King David of Makuria kissing the hand of Jesus, which has seldom been seen in Christain art before. One the last monarchs of Makuria, King David is best known for his Crusader-like wars with Egypt from 1275 AD. Now, the current conflict in Sudan has sparked concerns over the safety of archeological teams and the preservation of historical artifacts such as these.

FIRST EVER JOINT-YESHIVA CONFERENCE TO BE HELD IN DUBAI

APRIL 30 — The Mohammed Bin Zayed University for Humanities and the New York Modern Orthodox college announced that they will co-create the first-ever symposium between an American-Jewish university and an Emirati university. The event will be held at Dubai’s Crossroads of Civilisation Museum, and is being framed in the context of boosting Israeli-Emirati cultural and educational understandings post-Abraham Accords. 

The program will discuss social and cultural interactions and shared heritage between Judaism and Islam, as well as the works of the North African Sephardic theologian and philosopher, Moses Maimonides. Fittingly, the conference will be titled “Interacting Philsoophies, shared Friendships”, and will also include a Kosher dinner being served to both faculty and student attendees from both institutions.

QATARI SHEIKH MAKES FINAL BID FOR MANCHESTER UNITED 

APRIL 30 — Qatar’s former-Prime Minister, Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, was reported to have made a final bid for the English Premier League soccer club. Sheikh Jassim’s offer is reportedly for 100 percent of the club, covers all outstanding debts, and includes substantial infrastructure investments. The bid has yet to be reported officially, but was disclosed by a source on the condition of anonymity to Reuters.

The proposed deal is said to fall between 5 to 7.54 billion USD. The bidding process has remained confusing, especially with an apparent competition between Sheikh Jassim and British-billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe for ownership. 

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SAUDI ARABIA INTRODUCES NEW LITERARY PROGRAMS

MAY 2 — The new “ANT” training program, created by the Saudi Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission, is aimed at encouraging writers, authors, publishers, and translators to engage in greater literary criticism, discuss philosophy-related topics, and improve their creative writing skills. The program also involves teaching these skills to amatuer writers and children, allowing them to discuss their ideas and exchange experiences with writing specialists.

Per the Ministry of Culture, the “ANT” program will form a key step in transforming Saudi Arabia into hub of professional writers and literary translation. A process which began with the creation of the Arab Translation Labaratory in Riyadh last year, a joint venture between the Saudi Minsitry of Culture and the Cultural and Scientific Organisation of the Arab League.

‘DUNE: PART TWO’ TRAILER SHOWCASES ABU DHABI

MAY 3 — The sequel to the Oscar-award winning film Dune released its full trailer on Youtube, catching attention worldwide. Many of the trailer’s included scenes was filmed in the Liwa desert of Abu Dhabi, which has been noted for its enchanting desert environment. The Liwa desert was chosen as the film’s fictional planet of Arrakis. Shooting of the entire film itself has taken place in Jordan, Italy, Budapest and Abu Dhabi since July 2022. The sequel showcases almost 30 locations in Abu Dhabi alone.

The film will be released in cinemas on November 3, 2023.

MOROCCAN DIRECTOR JOINS CANNES FILM FESTIVAL JURY

MAY 4 — Maryam Touzani, a director and screenwriter from the Moroccan city of Tangier, will serve on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival, which is scheduled to take place between May 16 and 27. Touzani is a distinguished cultural figure, having been the director of “The Blue Caftan,” an acclaimed film which received the Un Certain Regard award during the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. It was also shortilsted and considered for the Academy Award of Best International Feature Film.

The Blue Caftan” tells the story of a troubled marriage between a husband and wife, who jointly run a handmade caftan (or robe) shop within an established Moroccan medina (market). Later, she collaborated with other filmmakers, in particular Nabil Ayouch, on creating the film “Much Loved.”

BYZANTINE RUINS NEWLY UNCOVERED IN SOUTHERN EGYPT

MAY 7 — The Egyptian government announced a new archeological discovery from the Mir antiquities region of Assyut Governorate, which is located in the city of Al-Qusia. The ruins include several graves and a building complex from the period of Byzantine Roman rule over Egypt, which held the deteriorated remains of skeletons, coffins, and funerary furniture. 

Among the ruins included wall inscriptions of a religious-context, written in Coptic script, and encapsulated by mud shelves which likely served as a respiratory of manuscripts for monks. Adel Okasha, the Head of the Central Department of Antiquities of Middle Egypt, further added that one of graves belonged to a women, whose coffin, funerary mask, and bodily remains were also uncovered.  

Dune: Part Two trailer came out on May 3 - many parts were filmed in Abu Dhabi

MAY 16 IRAQI ARTIST RECEIVES ITHRA PRIZE

Adel Abidin, a visual artist of Iraqi and Finnish descent, received the fifth Ithra Art Prize from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture. Abidin’s submission, entitled “ON”, fixates on his historical analysis of the Iraqi city of Basra during the Zanj Rebellion of 869 AD against the Abbasid Dynasty. In doing so, Abidin focuses on the connections underpinning themes of identity, history, and collective memory. The prize itself includes a 100,000 USD imbursement.

Abidin was born in 1973 in Baghdad, and attained a B.A. in Painting from the city’s Academic of Fine Arts in 2000, as well as an M.F.A. from Helsinki’s Academy of Fine Arts in Time and Space Art. His artwork gained prominence after being featured as part of the Finnish exhibition at the Nordic Pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biennale, as well as in other exhibits in Doha’s Mathaf; Arab Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Sharjah Art Foundation.

MAY 16 MOROCCO UNVEILS ITS FIRST HYDROGEN CAR

The new vehicle, also called the Hydrogen Utility Vehicle or HUV, was unveiled in a ceremony in Rabat’s Royal Palace, which was attended by King Mohammed VI. The project was developed via acollaboration by Neo Motors, a Moroccan company, the France-based car company NamX, and the Italy-based Pininfarina coachbuilders.

Morocco is already the largest automotive producer in Africa, with the HUV aiming to further uplift its competitiveness in this market, particularly vis-a-vis forms of renewable and affordable private transport. Unlike battery-powered electric vehicles which require several hours of recharge, the HUV can be refiueled within minutes, while offering greater ranges and a marginally more friendly enviormental impact. 

MAY 17 QATAR MAKES BID FOR RUGBY WORLD CUP

Alongside, Fiji, South Africa, and New Zealand, Qatar has come forward in expressing its interest in hosting the next Rugby League World Cup in 2025. The announcement came following France’s withdrawal from the process, after the tournament’s organising committee said it could not fulfill the financial criteria outlined by the French Government. 

Qatar is supposedly leveraging its stadium infrastructure, which was built for the 2022 FIFAWorld Cup, as part of its wider bid. However, concerns about high local temperatures during the rugby playing season may serve to frustrate the country’s bid, according to Troy Grant, the chair of the International Rugby League. The bid comes as Qatar is set to host a series of other international sporting events, including the under-19s 2024 Asian Cup and the 2030 Asian Games.

MAY 19 SAUDI ARABIA SIGNS AGREEMENT TO CREATE  FILM INVESTMENT FUND

In a substantive step towards invigorating the media and film industry within the Kingdom, the country’s Cultural Development Fund signed a 100 million USD agreement with two Saudi-based companies, ROAA Media Ventures and MEFIC Capital, to establish the first film investment fund in Saudi Arabia. The document itself was signed during the Cannes Film Festival, within which the Cultural Development Fund is participating as part of the Saudi pavilion, and exemplifies the Saudi government’s growing interest in cultural and artistic production.

Prince Badr bin Abdullah, the incumbent Minister of Culture, and the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Cultural Development, is set to oversee the implementation of the agreement, and the Cultural Development Fund’s forty percent stake in the total investments within the new fund.

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JUNE 6 — THIRTEENTH CENTURY MOSQUE REOPENS IN EGYPT

Last week, Egypt reopened Al-Zahir Baybars mosque — the country’s third largest — after a 16-year restoration process. The mosque was built in 1268 by the Mamluk sultan al-Zahir Baybars al-Bunduqdari. Baybars, who was born in modern-day Kazakhstan, is famous for his campaigns against the Mongols as well as the Crusaders.

Since the founding of the Al-Zahir Baybars mosque, it has served a number of other functions. It was converted into a fort during the Napoleonic campaign, a soap factory under Ottoman rule, and a slaughterhouse under the British. Over the 225 years that the mosque was either closed or used for nonreligious purposes, it suffered disrepair and decline. In 2007, Egypt and Kazakhstan jointly funded the 7.6 million dollar restoration process of the mosque. The reopening ceremony last week was attended by the chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of Egypt, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, as well as Cairo locals. 

JUNE 6 — SAUDI ARABIA BUYS GOLF, BUT NOT MESSI

Saudi Arabia announced a surprise merger between its own LIV Golf and PGA Tour. LIV Golf is new to the scene, having been established by Saudi Arabia in 2021 with funds from the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). LIV Golf and PGA had been engaged in a legal fight for two years before the news of the merger. On June 13, the Senate opened an investigation into the deal. Many have accused Saudi Arabia of “sportswashing,” or drawing attention away from human rights concerns through sports sponsorships.

Saudi Arabia’s success in the golf world was followed the next day by a setback to its ambitions in soccer, when Lionel Messi turned down the kingdom’s 400 million dollar offer to play for its Al-Hilal team. Instead, Messi decided to play for Inter Miami.

JUNE 9 — EMIRATI CORAL NURSERIES HELP RESTORE BLEACHED REEFS

In Abu Dhabi, marine scientists are working in coral nurseries to restore corals affected by bleaching events. As part of this project by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the corals are rehabilitated in controlled environments; they grow from small fragments to fist size until they are ready to be returned to their original reefs. This project was begun after two major bleaching events in 2017 and 2021, the first of which killed 70% of Emirati coral. Coral bleaching is caused by rising ocean temperatures, which cause corals to eject the algae that give them their color. 

The UAE has frequently faced criticism for the environmental impact of its rapid development. The country has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world. In order for coral rehabilitation efforts to succeed, more effort is needed to prevent ocean temperatures from rising. 

JUNE 12 — SAUDI HANDICRAFTS WEEK COMES TO A CLOSE

Handicrafts Week in Riyadh concludes its events on Monday, June 12. Titled “Banan” in Arabic (which means fingertips), the event was intended to celebrate craftsmanship and cultural inheritance, both local and international. The displays showcased ranged from Mexican weaving to Italian silk to Saudi mosaics. At Banan, artists had the chance to educate viewers about the history of their art, as well as sell their pieces. Attendees could also participate in hands-on art workshops. 

The Saudi Deputy Minister of Culture Hamed Fayez told Arab News, “There’s no doubt that handicrafts play an important part in economic and cultural projects and are a factor for creating job and investment opportunities, in addition to their role in preserving cultural heritage and strengthening national identity.”

JUNE 14 — SHARJAH HONORED AT SEOUL INTERNATIONAL BOOK FAIR 

Sharjah, representing the Emirati publishing industry as a whole, was the guest of honor at the Seoul International Book Fair. The events included a talk by author Sultan Ameemi on Emirati poetry, a panel on the Arab publishing market, and a joint symposium with Emirati and South Korean literary critics. 

The event was hailed as an opportunity to promote cross-cultural understanding between South Korea and the Arab world. Sheikha Bodour, chairwoman of the Sharjah Book Authority, commented, “Sharjah and South Korea share a common experience in investing in culture to create a flourishing cultural scene that inspires the world and contributes to socioeconomic progress.” 

JUNE 15 — ART BASEL SHOWCASES ARAB ART

This year’s Art Basel included several Middle Eastern artists among its highlights. One booth was dedicated to Marfa’ Projects, a Beiruiti gallery which was recently rebuilt after the destruction of the 2020 explosion. Marfa’s displays at Art Basel included the work of Raed Yassin, who presented an artistic meditation on the symbolism of skulls. 

Art Basel also displayed a 20-minute short film entitled “Holy Quarter” by Mounira Al Qadiri. The piece, which was filmed in Oman, depicts how British exploration in the 1930s led to the discovery of meteorite craters in the region. 

JUNE 18 — IRAQ RECLAIMS ANCIENT ASSYRIAN TABLET FROM ITALY

Iraq displayed a 2,800-year-old stone tablet that was recently repatriated by Italy. The tablet bears a complete cuneiform text honoring the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. It is not clear how the tablet was discovered or why it arrived in Italy in the 1980s. Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid thanked Italy for its cooperation in returning the tablet. He also declared, “We will continue to work to recover all the archaeological pieces of Iraqi history from abroad.” 

Iraq has suffered the loss of many historic artifacts. An estimated 15,000 cultural items were looted after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country. Since 2014, many more cultural and archaeological sites have been devastated by the Islamic State. 

JUNE 18 — SAUDI ARTIST CREATES CALLIGRAPHIC JEWELRY 

Maryah Abudeeb turns Arabic literature into jewelry with her calligraphy skills. She founded her own jewelry brand, Mashq, as a celebration of Islamic art. For her pieces, she begins with a line from some of her favorite works of literature. After writing it in calligraphy, she uses computer programs to design a jewelry piece with the engraved text. 

Abudeeb began her practice to honor the long history of Arabic calligraphy. She hopes that the wearers of her jewelry will feel connected to the words of the classic texts she has chosen. 

JUNE 22 — UAE ANNOUNCES INITIATIVE TO CELEBRATE ANDALUSIAN CULTURE

The UAE has announced a six-month, multi-part project — “Andalusia: History and Civilisation” — to explore the legacy of Muslim Spain. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre will host an exhibit on Andalusian art in November. The initiative will also include two conferences, one in the UAE and one in Spain, in order to celebrate Andalusian culture, literature, and science. 

The project is part of an effort to increase connections between Spain and the Arab world. Mohammed al Murr, chairman of the project, says that it “aims to foster and advance the culture of coexistence and tolerance, which forms the bedrock of Andalusian civilisation and remains relevant in the present day.”

JUNE 25 — EGYPT BESTOWS CIVILIAN HONOR ON MODI

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently welcomed India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a diplomatic and cultural visit. El-Sisi awarded Modi with the Order of the Nile, Egypt’s highest civilian honor. 

After diplomatic discussions with el-Sisi, Modi toured several cultural sites in Egypt, including the pyramids of Giza and Al-Hakim mosque. Modi also paid his respects at Cairo’s Heliopolis War Cemetery, where Indian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I are buried. 

JUNE 26 — LARGEST HAJJ IN HISTORY BEGINS

This year’s annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia is expected to set the record as the largest ever, with an estimated attendance of 2.5 million Muslims. During the last three years, hajj participation was restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, with numbers capped as low as 10,000 in 2020. This will be the first year without any attendance restrictions. 

All Muslims who are physically and financially able to do so must make the hajj pilgrimage once in their lifetimes. Hajj takes place this year until July 1. 

JUNE 26 — UNESCO-SHARJAH PRIZE FOR ARAB CULTURE HOSTS 19TH CEREMONY

In an awards ceremony in Paris on Monday, the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture was given to two individuals for their contributions to Arab art and music. 

Lebanese actor and director Kassem Istanbouli was honored for his effort to restore cinemas affected by the country’s civil war. Istanbouli is also the founder of the Lebanese National Theater and co-founder of the Arab Culture and Arts Network (ACAN). The second awardee, Hajer Ben Boubaker, is a French-Tunisian sound director. She was celebrated for bringing Maghrebi musical heritage to the rest of the world through her podcast, academic research, and documentary productions. Each of the prize winners was awarded $30,000.

JUNE 28 — MUSLIMS AROUND THE GLOBE CELEBRATE EID 

Muslims marked Eid al-Adha last week with celebrations and prayers. In countries such as Egypt, many families struggled to afford the feast due to the weakening currency. In São Paulo, more than 3,000 Brazilian Muslims gathered in a celebration that united 17 different mosques. Meanwhile, Eid in Sudan was dampened by intensifying violence in the country, even though a truce for the holiday was declared. Muslims in Ukraine also observed the holiday in the midst of war. 

Eid al-Adha honors Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. It also marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. 

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JULY 3 — ANCIENT EGYPTIAN RELIC RETURNED

Switzerland returned a 3,400-year-old statue fragment to Egypt which had been stolen three decades earlier. The fragment is part of a statue which depicts the pharaoh Ramses II with Egyptian gods. It was taken from the pharaoh’s temple in Abydos in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The artifact eventually reached Switzerland, where it was seized in a criminal investigation. 

The fragment was returned to the Egyptian embassy by the director of the Swiss Federal Office of Culture. 

JULY 4 — WELCOME INITIATIVE SHARES SAUDI CULTURE WITH HAJJ PILGRIMS

Saudi Arabia launched a “Hayyakom” (“Welcome”) initiative to educate pilgrims on Islamic heritage, Saudi history, and cultural consciousness. The program takes place at the library of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and is part of the kingdom’s effort to welcome visitors during the Hajj pilgrimage. A group of Chinese pilgrims recently toured the Two Holy Mosques Exhibition.

The Hayyakom initiative was organized by the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques. 

JULY 5 — EMIRATI SHEIKHA TO DIRECT PRESTIGIOUS JAPANESE ART FESTIVAL

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi was chosen to direct the Japanese art festival Aichi Triennale 2025. Aichi Triennale organizers selected Sheikha Hoor for her “abundant experience and achievements as an international curator and director.” Since 2003, Sheikha Hoor has curated the Sharjah Biennial, which is the UAE’s longest-running art event. She also founded and still directs the Sharjah Art Foundation.

Sheika Hoor will be the first non-Japanese person to serve as the artistic director of the triennale. 

JULY 5 — 1,5000 YEAR-OLD STATUES DISCOVERED IN ISTANBUL

Archaeologists in Turkey uncovered Byzantine statues from the 5th or 6th century CE. The statues were found at the remains of St Polyeuktos Church, which lies at the heart of modern-day Istanbul and is a decade older than the nearby Hagia Sophia. Three of the statues are grave steles, memorializing important Byzantine figures.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality heritage team is still excavating the site, so there may be more discoveries to come.

JULY 6 — LEBANESE ARCHITECT TALKS AL-ULA MUSEUM DESIGN

Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh recently spoke to Arab News about her design process for the new Al-Ula museum in Saudi Arabia. An award winning architect, Ghotmeh was selected in May to design the new contemporary art museum in the region. Ghotmeh attributes her interest in architecture to the destruction of the Lebanese Civil War, which sparked her desire to build anew. 

Describing her design plans for the museum, Ghotmeh said, “I’m imagining a series of pavilions that somehow reflect how the city was in the past, drawing on a smaller scale of construction, and intertwined with nature, so nature becomes part of the experience of the museum.”

JULY 7 — IRAQI MARSHES FACE SHRINKING WATER AND CONTAMINATION

The marshlands of Iraq — which were designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 2016 for their biodiversity and history — are now teetering on the edge of disaster. Due to dams and drought, less and less water reaches the marshes from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. As the water levels decline, this leads to high salinity levels. Fish and cattle can no longer survive, damaging the fragile ecosystem and the residents who depend on it. 

The managing director of the NGO Nature Iraq estimates that only about 15% of the marsh’s original area remains. 

JULY 8 — GAZA SUMMER FUN WEEKS CELEBRATE PALESTINIAN KIDS 

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) launched Gaza Summer Fun Weeks, which runs from July 8-August 3 to provide summer camp experiences for Palestinian children. UNRWA expects over 130,000 children to participate in  activities like painting, sports, music, and language learning. 

Thomas White, the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza, commented, “At the end of the day, children are living in a war zone and these activities allow them to simply be children.”

JULY 10 — IRANIAN RAPPER SENTENCED TO PRISON

Rapper Toomaj Saleh was sentenced by Iran to more than six years in prison, although he escaped the death penalty. Saleh’s songs and videos criticizing the regime went viral during the protest movement on behalf of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who died after her arrest for not wearing a proper hijab. Saleh was arrested after participating in the protests and placed in solitary confinement until his sentencing. 

In one of his most popular videos, Saleh references Amini, rapping, “Someone’s crime was dancing with her hair in the wind.”

JULY 13 — BEIRUT HOSTS POP-UP ART SHOW IN REFURBISHED THEATER

Slumber's Tongues I (working title) by Hatem Imam. Photo: Vartan Seraydarian

Art Design Lebanon, a nonprofit pop-up art gallery, hosts artist Hatem Imam’s second solo show, consisting of over twenty abstract landscape paintings and monotypes. Describing his interest in landscapes, Imam explains, “Paradoxically, in order to create images of a landscape, you need to be outside of it – for example, on top of a hill or a rooftop, to be able to see the city or landscape – to be able to capture it.”

The show takes place from July 13-20 in the reopened Metro Al Madina cabaret theater. 

JULY 15 — TUNISIAN PLAYER DEFEATED AT WIMBLEDON FINAL

Tunisian star player Ons Jabeur suffered a heartbreaking loss to Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the Wimbledon women’s singles final. Had she won, she would have become the first woman from the Arab world or Africa to win the title. After the match, Jabeur admitted: “this is the most painful loss of my career” but vowed to “come back stronger.”

This was Jabeur’s second straight year of losing in the women’s finals. Nevertheless, she remains a source of pride and inspiration for Tunisians. 

JULY 16 — HEATWAVE ENDANGERS SYRIAN REFUGEES

Heatwaves in the Mediterranean region are threatening the lives of displaced Syrians who live in tents that intensify heat and lack any cooling mechanisms. Camps in the northwest of the country near the Syrian-Turkish border, where many families displaced from Idlib live, are particularly affected. Temperatures are rising above 108 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The Syrian Civil Defence has advised everyone to limit time outdoors and stay hydrated, and it has provided water to some of the displacement camps. However, according to the Syria Response Coordination Group, 811 camps still lack sufficient water. 

JULY 20 — LONDON HOSTS ITS LARGEST ARAB ART EXHIBITION 

Christie’s, a London auction house, is showing “Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World,” with artworks spanning from 1939 to 2023. Curated by Ridha Moumni, the exhibition is split in two parts. The first draws from the UAE’s Barjeel Art Foundation, whose collection represents artists across the region. The second section, which is a collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, focuses solely on Emirati contemporary art. 

According to Moumni, the exhibit’s “goal was to display this art, both for the people from our region, and also for the London public and visitors.”

The exhibit is on display from July 20 to August 23. 

JULY 20 — ABU DHABI REVEALS LARGEST SUPERCOMPUTER FOR AI

Abu Dhabi is helping to create the world’s largest supercomputer for artificial intelligence (AI) training. Known as Condor Galaxy, the project is a partnership between Abu Dhabi’s G42, an AI and cloud computing company, and the American firm Cerebras Systems. It will be a network of nine supercomputers, the first of which (CG-1) has just now been launched. 

Talal Alkaissi, the chief executive of G42 cloud G42, commented, “In the UAE, there's a national AI plan, part of which is to use AI to improve productivity at all levels across the government and economy.” G42 is already studying how AI can improve health care, sports, space exploration, energy and more. 

JULY 21 — QUR’AN DESECRATIONS SPARK ANGER IN MUSLIM NATIONS 

After several desecrations of the Qur’an, most recently on Thursday in Stockholm by an Iraqi Christian, Muslim nations have expressed their outrage. In response to the events in Sweden, Iraq expelled the Swedish ambassador from Baghdad, as well as recalling the Iraqi charge d’affaires from Stockholm. Protests turned violent in Iraq on Thursday as demonstrators set a fire in the Swedish Embassy, a day after the embassy staff were evacuated. Meanwhile, Kuwait has banned exports to countries where Qur’an burnings take place, and protests are being organized in Lebanon and Iran. 

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani declared, “We consider the Swedish government responsible for the outcome of provocation reactions from the world’s Muslims.”

JULY 24 — MOROCCO LOSES TO GERMANY IN WOMEN’S WORLD CUP

Germany (ranked 2nd) beat Morocco (ranked 72nd) 6-0 in the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Morocco is the first Arab nation to play in the Women’s World Cup, not long after its men’s team made history in the World Cup in Qatar. Next, the Atlas Lionesses will face South Korea in Adelaide on July 30. 

Morocco’s first women’s soccer team was formed in 1997. 

JULY 27 — HIGH DEMAND FOR MIDDLE EASTERN OLIVE OIL AMID EUROPEAN DROUGHT

The market for olive oil from Middle Eastern countries is booming, helping farmers and producers in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Tunisia. Due to widespread drought in Europe, olive oil production in Spain, Italy, and Greece has fallen significantly. Meanwhile, many Middle Eastern olive crops are more drought-resistant, enabling the region to continue producing. Many European producers are now buying Middle Eastern olive oil in bulk, which sells for high prices.

In Tunisia, the price of olive oil has more than doubled in the last year. 

JULY 28 — WORLD ARCHITECTURE FESTIVAL SHORTLISTS 13 PROJECTS IN ARAB WORLD

The World Architecture Festival 2023, held in Singapore in November, announced its shortlist of projects, including thirteen from the Middle East and North Africa. The awards are divided into the categories of completed buildings, future projects, and landscape. Four completed buildings from the region were shortlisted in addition to nine future projects. Shortlisted artists will have the opportunity to present their work to a panel of judges. 

The buildings shortlisted include the Mosque of Light in Dubai, one of the first in the UAE to be designed by a woman. The Oman Across Ages Museum, whose distinctive form reflects the landscape around it, has also been shortlisted. 

JULY 28 — QATAR DONATES $100 MILLION TO HUMANITARIAN PROJECTS IN UKRAINE

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced that Qatar will be providing the country with $100 million in aid. The announcement came after a visit with ​​Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. According to Shmyhal, “This money will be channelled for reconstruction in the health and education sectors, humanitarian de-mining, and other important social and humanitarian projects.” 

JULY 30 — MOROCCAN VICTORY AT WOMEN’S WORLD CUP

On Sunday, Morocco scored its first win at the Women’s World Cup against South Korea in a surprise victory (1-0). Morocco’s goal was scored by Ibtissam Jraidi only minutes into the game. Jraidi commented to reporters, “We are just so pleased our efforts have paid off. This victory is for Morocco and Arabs, it’s the fruit of our hard work.”

The kingdom also made history with Nouhaila Benzina, who became the first player to wear a hijab during a Women’s World Cup match. 

JULY 31 — PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE PARTNERS WITH EMIRATI PUBLISHER

Penguin Random House entered an agreement with Kalimat, an esteemed Arabic publisher based in Sharjah, to increase the exchange of English and Arabic literature. Penguin Random House will translate titles by Kalimat into English, while Kalimat will translate Penguin books from south and south-east Asia into Arabic. 

Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, the founder of Kalimat Group, remarked, “We’re thrilled to enter a partnership with one of the biggest names in the world of publishing at a time of increasing appetite for Arabic works and translations. Working together we can find new audiences, increase the reach of our authors and enrich the international publishing landscape, which is to the benefit of readers in many markets.”

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AUGUST 1 — ABU DHABI ANNOUNCES NEW FILM STUDIO

Twofour54, an Emirati film studio launched in 2008, announced plans to build a new filmmaking studio by 2025. The 100-acre studio will be equipped with 11 soundstages, in addition to various sets, office space, and a water tank. The studio will be part of Abu Dhabi’s effort to become a leader in entertainment.

The managing director of twofour54’s parent company, Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri, commented, “The creative industries have been identified as one of Abu Dhabi’s priority sectors given the important economic and social value they create.” 

Abu Dhabi has already featured in blockbusters like Mission: Impossible, Dune, Star Wars and Fast and Furious. 

AUGUST 1 — CAMEL FESTIVAL BEGINS IN SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia’s 5th Crown Prince Camel Festival kicked off last Tuesday, displaying over 60,000 camels over the course of 38 days. Participating countries include the US, France, Switzerland, Oman, Bahrain, the UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Sudan and Egypt. The festival is intended to celebrate Middle Eastern culture and promote tourism to the region.

The total prize pool for the 589 races at this year’s festival reaches $14.9 million. 

AUGUST 1 — EGYPTIAN AND SAUDI GEMSTONES HELP REVEAL TRADE ROUTES

Researchers showed that gemstones can be analyzed to identify their location of origin, shedding light on historical trade routes. The study, published in AIP Advances, looked at stones from the Arabian-Nubian Shield (a rich mineral deposit in Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and compared them with gems from other locations. Researchers used spectroscopy techniques to identify the elemental composition of gems from ancient sites, including Cleopatra’s emerald mines. 

The insights from the study will help researchers differentiate the origins of different gems and trace their historical trade paths. 

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SEPTEMBER 6 — ELYANNA ANNOUNCES TOUR DATES ACROSS NORTH AMERICA 

The up-and-coming Palestinian-Chilean singer and songwriter, Elyanna, has announced her first North American tour to begin this Fall. This past Spring, the 21-year-old became the first artist to perform a full set in Arabic at the Coachelle music festival. Her songs incorporate both Arabic and English lyrics with a mix of Arab and Western beats. 

Her tour is set to begin November 6 in Dallas, TX and end November 28 in Santa Ana, CA. 

SEPTEMBER 8 — MORE THAN 2500 DEAD AFTER EARTHQUAKE HITS MOROCCO 

Late Friday night, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the mountainous regions of Morocco, leaving more than 2,600 people dead and another 2,500 people injured, with the urgent search for survivors still underway. The earthquake took place less than 50 miles from one of Morocco’s largest cities, Marrakech, and is the strongest to hit the area in a century. The World Health Organization has stated that more than 300,000 people have been affected, with dozens of villages facing extensive to near total destruction.  

Rescue efforts are still ongoing; however, they are challenged by low accessibility to the most rural, and hardest hit, areas. The small number of roads, coupled with extensive debris, has made it difficult for helpers to reach cities higher up the mountains. 

The country is currently receiving assistance from the United Nations, the World Bank, and a handful of other countries. 

SEPTEMBER 8 — CINEMA AKIL ANNOUNCES IT WILL HOST THE ACCLAIMED “II CINEMA RITROVATO” GLOBAL FILM FESTIVAL 

Cinema Akil, the Gulf’s only independent cinema located in the UAE, will make history in the Middle East by hosting the II Cinema Ritrovato. The globally acclaimed film festival was founded in 1986 and is dedicated to screening the latest restored films from archives and labs worldwide. While initially comprising a three-day event, it has since grown into a week-long endeavor that hosts more than 100,000 spectators. Cinema Akil will partner with the Italian Cultural Institute Abu Dhabi and Cineteca di Bologna, a prominent European film restoration and preservation archive, to curate seven heritage films. 

This year's selection includes cinematic archives from Italy, India, Morocco, Iran, and Angola. 

The festival will take place from September 15th to September 21st and will screen 7 films. 

SEPTEMBER 9 — MUSIC FESTIVAL IN LONDON TO SUPPORT TO PALESTINIANS AND HONOR CO-FOUNDER BEGINS 

Paying homage to one of its co-founders, Odai Masri, London hosted a special edition Exist festival from Friday to Sunday. The electronic music festival, which was founded in 2019, serves as a global platform for musicians to stand alongside Palestinian artists in order to confront injustice. While debuting in Ramallah, the festival has since expanded to six other countries, with England’s edition being dedicated to Masri. 

Masri, who passed away on June 30th of this year, played a pivotal role in growing the Palestinian dance music scene. He not only created the first Palestinian electronic record label, but he was also the main leader behind Radio Nerd, Palestine’s electronic music station. His efforts attributed to the increasing global audience for Palestinian dance music.   

SEPTEMBER 15 — TWO ARAB FILMS ENTER THE OSCAR RACE 

Both Yemen and Tunisia have submitted movies for next year’s Oscars. Yemeni director Amr Gamal’s “The Burdened” and Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Four Daughters” films will be competing for the international feature film Academy Award. 

Gamal’s film initially premiered at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, where it won several awards. His film is based on a true story that occurred in 2019 and follows the lives of a middle-class couple struggling to support their children. Ben Hania’s film received the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year and is a semi-documentary that follows the story of a man who accuses the government of allowing his daughters to fight for the Islamic State. 

This will be Gamal’s second submission for an Academy Award and Ben Hania’s first. 

SEPTEMBER 15 — THE AL-ULA WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY SUMMIT CONCLUDED IN SAUDI ARABIA 

On Friday, September 15, the Al-Ula World Archaeology Summit in Saudi Arabia came to a close after three days of discussion. The intention of the event was to promote and encourage development in archaeology and cultural heritage. More than 300 archaeology experts from 39 countries participated in the panel discussions that tackled a variety of topics. The topics ranged from utilizing technology to preserving ancient ruins to understanding the effects of archaeological practices on mental health. 

With the city serving as a key destination for its historical sites, the organizers are hoping the event will become a leading global platform in the fields of archaeology and cultural heritage. 

SEPTEMBER 17 — EGYPT INAUGURATES NEWLY RESTORED OTTOMAN MOSQUE AFTER FIVE YEARS OF RESTORATIONS

Egypt has inaugurated a recently restored Ottoman mosque in central Cairo. The project, which took five years to complete, was led by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and the military’s Arab Organization for Industrialisation. The mosque was built by the 16th-century governor Suleyman Pasha al-Khadim in 1528 A.D. It currently lies inside Cairo’s citadel on the site of the Sayed Sariya tomb, which dates back to 1140 A.D. 

The 2,360-sq. meter mosque consists of 22 green-tiled domes inlaid with Iznik tiles and houses a prayer area, vicinity, and Quran school. 

SEPTEMBER 18 — ASTRONAUT SULTAN AL-NEYADI  RETURNS HOME AFTER COMPLETING THE LONGEST ARAB SPACE MISSION IN HISTORY 

After spending the past six months in space, astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi returned home to the UAE. Al-Neyadi not only accomplished the longest Arab space mission in history, but also became the first Arab to ever walk in space. During his time on the International Space Station, Al-Neyadi conducted over 200 experiments and studies that took roughly 585 hours. 

Following his return, Al-Neyadi plans to share his experience and findings with different schools and universities in the hopes of inspiring future generations in the STEM field, especially those in the UAE and throughout the Middle East. 

Despite his recent arrival to Earth, Al-Neyadi has already expressed excitement about returning to space in the near future to continue conducting studies.

SEPTEMBER 20 — SUNKEN TEMPLE OF APHRODITE DISCOVERED OFF THE COAST OF EGYPT

Following a joint mission between the European Institute of Marine Archaeology and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, archaeologists discovered a temple for the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The temple was discovered in the sunken city Thonis-Heraklion off of the Abu Qir Bay near Alexandria. Inside the temple, archaeologists found Grecian artifacts made of bronze and ceramic, as well as wooden beams that date back to the fifth century BC. 

According to Egyptian officials, the sunken city was initially the country’s largest port on the Mediterranean before Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in 331 BC. It is believed that the city began to sink in the second century BC as a result of tsunamis, earthquakes, and rising sea levels. 

SEPTEMBER 22 — RESTORED TURKISH BATH SET TO REOPEN AS PUBLIC ART VENUE

Back in 2010, Koza Gureli Yazgan purchased an abandoned bathhouse in the Zeyrek district of Istanbul. The original name “cinili,” which translates to “tiled bath house,” puzzled her as the walls were damp from humidity and covered in green mold. While attempting to clean up the building, she discovered hundreds of artifacts from Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman times, including more than 13,000 turquoise-blue ceramic tiles. Gureli Yazgan decided that the newly refurbished building will function as an art museum, with rotating art shows. 

In the last 13 years, Gureli Yazgan has completed monumental restoration efforts, which included restoring tiles and wall paintings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Now that repairs are completed, the bathhouse is set to open at the end of this week, September 30, 2023.

SEPTEMBER 22 — LIBYAN FLOODS UNEARTH ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS BUT THREATEN HISTORICAL HERITAGE SITES

On September 10, 2023, Storm Daniel hit the eastern coast of Libya, destroying communities and leaving more than 15,000 people dead or missing. Two weeks later, efforts are still ongoing to find and assess the extent of the damage. This past week, archaeologists have uncovered historic remains and artifacts from the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Cyrene. 

In some heavily flooded areas, the water has left numerous tombs and archaeological structures completely submerged, but elsewhere, the damage has contributed to its own form of excavation, unearthing marble statues and columns previously unknown. This damage has left experts worried about the structural integrity of the fragile city and the future stability of the artifacts and buildings it houses. 

SEPTEMBER 23 — AZIMUTH MUSIC FESTIVAL CONCLUDES IN SAUDI ARABIA 

On Saturday morning, the Azimuth Music Festival in Al-Ula wrapped up its celebration for Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day. The concert, which took place over two days, featured more than 30 artists. The performances took place over two different stages, both of which were held in a sandy valley surrounded by mountains. The music consisted of everything from hip-hop and rock to techno and R&B and was performed by artists from all around the world. 

SEPTEMBER 28 — AWARD WINNING MURAL UNVEILED AT ITHRA 

Iraqi artist Adel Abidin’s mural “On” was recently unveiled at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Saudi Arabia. His proposal for the piece won $100,000 and full funding earlier this year, beating out more than 10,000 other submissions. Following its completion, the piece will now remain in the center’s permanent art collection. 

Abidin’s large-scale mural, which contains inked figures on Japanese rice paper, focuses on the relationship between history, memory, and identity in the Arab world. More specifically, his piece highlights the subjectivity of historical oral accounts on the Zanj Rebellion in southern Iraq and how the disparities have affected modern understandings of the historical period. 

The Zanj Rebellion, which began in 869 CE, recounts a story about a 14-year slave revolt against the Abbasid caliphate in protest against their harsh living conditions. While researching the history, Abidin discovered hundreds of varying stories from different origins. With his mural, Abidin stamped these varying accounts together, demonstrating that, while he is not a historian, he is still attempting to interpret the situation that occurred more than 1,000 years ago. 

SEPTEMBER 29 — JORDANIAN AND PALESTINIAN FILMS ENTER THE OSCAR RACE 

Both Jordanian and Palestinian films have been submitted for next year’s Oscar race. Jordanian director Amjad Al-Rasheed’s “Inshallah a Boy” and Palestinian director Lina Soualem’s “Bye Bye Tiberias” films will be competing for the Academy Award for best international feature film. 

Al-Rasheed’s film follows the lives of Nawal, a young widow, and her daughter as they are about to lose their home. The film, which was shot entirely in Amman, was the first Jordanian film to compete in the Cannes Film Festival this past Spring. Soualem’s documentary follows the stories of four generations of Palestinian women in her family, particularly focusing on her mother who left her family and home to pursue her acting career. Her film is set to premier in the London Film Festival later this month. 

Films from Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and Morocco have also entered the Oscar race. 

SEPTEMBER 30 — FILM CONTROVERSY LEADS TO CANCELLATION OF INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL IN TURKEY 

Political controversy over a Turkish documentary has led to the cancellation of the Golden Orange Film Festival. The event, which is Turkey’s oldest film festival, has drawn significant attention and accusations of censorship following the objections to “The Decree.” The film centers on the difficulties faced by a doctor and teacher who lost their jobs after the attempted Turkish coup in 2016.

While the film was initially selected to premier at the festival, last week it was excluded from competition. Following an outcry from filmmakers and festival jury officials, the film was reinstated, but just shortly after, the Ministry of Culture excluded the film yet again. The disagreements ultimately led to the cancellation of the festival. 

The Ministry of Culture claims that they did not support the film, labeling it as propaganda for Fethullah Gulen, who the government blames for the failed coup. 

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OCTOBER 1 — TORONTO PALESTINE FILM FESTIVAL WRAPS UP 

This past Sunday, the Toronto Palestine Film Festival concluded its five day event. The festival, which celebrated its 16th anniversary, included 24 feature and short films, an art exhibition, a number of workshops, and a musical performance. The event aims to utilize art, culture, films, and cuisine as a method of bringing Palestinian support and ideas into mainstream spaces. 

In addition to the in-person festival, all of the films will be available to stream on their website until October 4. 

OCTOBER 6 — RIYADH ELECTRONIC MUSIC AND ART FESTIVAL WRAPS UP

The two-day Freaks of Nature music festival finished up Friday night in Riyadh. The festival, which had a main stage and a second underground stage, hosted dozens of international artists as well as 30 local artists. The theme for the festival's fifth installment was “querencia,” which fell in line with the event’s intention to provide a safe space for “authenticity, connection and self-expression.” The defining feature of the event was the immersive concert experiences with visual spectacles and light shows that left crowds dancing all night. 

In addition to the music, the festival hosted a food court, carnival rides, and pop-up art galleries displaying local work. 

OCTOBER 6 — MIDDLE EASTERN CALLIGRAPHY ART EXHIBITION ON DISPLAY IN LONDON 

A new art exhibition, “The Resistance of Pen and Paper,”  in London has brought together work from six artists across the Middle East and North Africa who specialize in calligraphy and written language. These artists were chosen because their work reflects issues surrounding gender politics, identity, displacement, and cultural heritage. 

Most of the pieces are created from upcycled material, like rags and thrifted wooden blocks. In terms of theme, several of the works are crafted specifically for Western culture, aiming to break stereotypes about religion and cultural differences. Additionally, two of the works are focused on educating others on the restrictions of censorship and freedom artists experience across the Middle East. 

The exhibition can be viewed until November 4 at the Richard Saltoun Gallery in London’s Mayfair.

OCTOBER 9 — DUBAI FASHION WEEK KICKS OFF 

Dubai’s largest fashion event, which was founded earlier this Spring, began on Monday afternoon. The theme of the week is sustainability and will showcase Women’s Fall-Winter Couture and Spring-Summer Ready-to-Wear collections. Dozens of designers across the Middle East will join artists from Eupore, Asia, and the Americas to showcase their work on the runway. 

The event is monumental for the Middle East as it will now join the list of prestigious fashion weeks hosted in Paris, London, Milan and New York. While highlighting the region’s creativity and business industry, it also aims to highlight the advancing Arab fashion industry and its success on the international stage. 

The event is set to run until the upcoming Sunday, October 15. 

OCTOBER 10 — FIRST FEMALE-ONLY FILM COMPETITION IN AL-ULA ANNOUNCES WINNERS 

Hana Alfasi, Maram Taibah, and sisters Raneem and Dana Almohandes were selected as the winners for the first ever Al-Ula female film programme, Al-Ula Creates. The program itself is part of a wider platform that “encourages female creativity in film, fashion, and the arts.” Another important aspect of the program is networking, as it provides amateur film makers with the opportunity to collaborate with top international, female film professionals.

The winners, who beat out 84 other submissions, received development funds to help them create and produce their stories. For the contest, directors were required to submit a 20-minute short film of their concept, and were assessed by prominent Middle Eastern directors on their creativity, thematic depth, originality, character development, and audience captivation. 

Alfasi’s submission focused on mental health, Taibah’s film told a story of female empowerment and independence, and the Almohandes sisters exhibited a live-action musical centered on the importance of human identity. All four works are said to demonstrate a new generation of upcoming talent in Saudi Arabia.  

OCTOBER 13 — SAUDI WOMAN BREAKS BOUNDARIES SKYDIVING 

For the first time ever in Saudi Arabia, a woman has obtained a freediving license. Razan Al-Ajmi has been skydiving for two years and has completed over 500 jumps throughout Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, and Spain. While she currently represents the country in global skydiving competitions and events, she is also training for a new sport, indoor skydiving, that will launch at the end of October. In addition to events, she also hopes to establish a school for the sport in the future so that more women will have the opportunity to obtain their skydiving licenses in the country. 

OCTOBER 13 — NEW ASSASSIN’S CREED EMPHASIZES ARAB CULTURE 

In the latest installment of the acclaimed video game series, “Assassin’s Creed: Mirage,” players find themselves completely immersed in Arab culture. While several video game universes also take place in the Middle East, few have done it in the manner, and with the respect, that Ubisoft have. 

The story is set in 9th-century Baghdad and follows a character named Basim Ibn Ishaq, who is voiced by a famous Lebanese actor, Lee Majdoub. In an attempt to recreate the ancient city, Ubisoft worked closely with regional experts and undertook an unprecedented amount of research. Their intention was to honor Arab culture, language, and the profound religious faith of the Islamic Golden Age. 

The game, which was released globally last week, is the company’s twelfth main installment in the Assassin’s Creed series.  

OCTOBER 14 — CALLIGRAPHY EXHIBITION UNVEILED IN DUBAI 

The Museum of the Future, which is located in the United Arab Emirates, has unveiled the “Dubai Calligraphy Biennale,” which will be on display throughout the month of October. The exhibition will focus on the world of calligraphy, incorporating panel sessions from artists across the Middle East, as well as “Future Talks,” where calligraphers will discuss the future of technology in the art world. 

In addition to modern technology, the panels will highlight the role of calligraphy for Arab culture and heritage, highlighting the importance of the art for fostering understanding across differing cultures. Effectively, viewers will gain both a deep history of the design, while also understanding its importance in modern trends. 

OCTOBER 15 — SUSTAINABLE TOURISM DESTINATIONS IN SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia has announced its newest plan for sustainable tourism in the city of Neom.  The new destination, named Leyja, will stretch from the gulf of Aqaba to an inland mountain range, reaching heights of 400 meters. The project consists of three environmentally sustainable hotels that cater to different interests. The first hotel geographically caters to rock climbing enthusiasts, the second hotel caters to oasis seekers, and the last hotel will function as an immersive wellness retreat that promotes longevity and well-being. 

The new tourist destination was created as part of the country’s ambitions to increase sustainability under Vision 2030. The project will preserve 95% of its area for nature, utilizing ecological design strategies to integrate buildings into the natural environment and landscape. 

In addition to the hotels, the area also plans to include hundreds of hiking and mountain biking trails. 

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