DUBAI: Since their inception in the mid-19th century, World Expos have provided countries of all sizes and degrees of wealth with a rare opportunity to curate their own national narrative, and tailor their preferred image — past, present and future — before a global audience.
Specific elements of a nation’s heritage, culture and economy are distilled, refined and placed on display in often exquisite and sprawling pavilions designed to reflect the country’s distinct national character and qualities. It is by communicating in this way, through their pavilions, that participating nations define themselves on the world stage.
Taken as a whole, a World Expo can therefore perhaps best be described as a rose-tinted mirror of civilization at a specific point in time. This “greatest show” is an amalgamation of nations in their idealized state; the world depicted as it would like to be seen, and everyone is invited.
Kuwait has risen, with flair and ambition, to the occasion of the first World Expo to be held in the Arab world. It is clear from the grand scale of the small Gulf kingdom’s presence at Expo 2020 Dubai that a great deal of thought and attention went into its pavilion design, content and messaging.
Kuwait City has a history of telling its preferred story through its architecture. It has undergone a number of significant transformations since the advent of oil urbanization, often through ambitious, state-led development initiatives that have consistently sought to replace the old with the new.
After 1950, almost all pre-oil structures in Kuwait City’s historic urban center were transformed to make way for a new, modern metropolis. And since 2003, a renewed cycle of development has replaced that modernist landscape with something newer still. Kuwait’s ambition at Expo 2020 is in keeping with its past, present and future.
Designed by Italian architect Marco Pestalozza, the 5,600-square-meter Kuwaiti pavilion sits gracefully on a large central plot near Al-Wasl in the Sustainability District, distinguished by its irregular, roughly circular shape and gold exterior panels featuring geometric designs.
The architecture of the pavilion is a nod to Kuwait’s history of urban development. A funnel, modeled after the iconic towers built soon after Kuwait gained independence in 1961 to store desalinated water, occupies the center of the pavilion, extending from the roof to ground level.
During the day, the pavilion resembles a nugget of unprocessed gold, textured so as to echo Kuwait’s undulating desert terrain, complete with screens displaying the familiar image of camels loping across sand dunes.
At night, the pavilion is transformed. Gold no longer dominates; instead, a blue spotlight illuminates “the envelope” — the name for the wide, sloping funnel at the top of the pavilion.
The marked aesthetic transition of the building from day to night is an example of the simple yet effective ways in which the pavilion conveys its central themes of connectivity, sustainability and a diversification away from oil.
Oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Kuwait in 1938 and the industry was launched in 1946. In 1950, Kuwait’s ruler announced plans to use the country’s new, and exponentially increasing, oil wealth to make Kuwait City “the best planned and most socially progressive city in the Middle East,” unveiling a state-led modernization project hinging on the twin pillars of urban development and social welfare.
Upon entering the pavilion, visitors are greeted by a large, curved screen on which a film that explores Kuwaiti heritage, reveals the kingdom’s present and offers a glimpse into its future plays on a loop. The story is told from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl, which illustrates Kuwait’s emphasis on promoting the role of future generations of women as part of its commitment to social progress.
From the ground floor, visitors ascend a curved staircase and are greeted by another video, this time offering a breathtaking vista of present-day Kuwait City, as viewed from the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway. In this film, Kuwait’s rich sea-life also features prominently, including shots of dolphins playing in the surf.
From the present, the story told by the pavilion shifts to the country’s past. Visitors are shepherded through a series of exhibits exploring Kuwait’s cultural heritage and rich legacy, reaching back about 7,000 years. Painstakingly recreated artifacts from Failaka Island, the name of which is thought to be derived from the ancient Greek word for “outpost,” are a particular highlight.
These images contrast with the story of Kuwait as a post-oil, progressive nation, outlining the substantial changes that the country has undergone. From port town to oil power, fledgling Arab democracy and a vibrant cultural society, to the Iraqi invasion and Kuwait’s economic crash, there is no question that the national story is as varied as it is rich.
Besides Qatar, Kuwait is the only Gulf Cooperation Council country whose pavilion is situated in the expo’s Sustainability District — an unusual choice, perhaps, given the ostensible contradiction between its economic mainstay, the oil industry, and the necessity of moving on to other, more sustainable sources of energy.
However, Kuwait’s pavilion designers freely acknowledge this seeming dichotomy by underscoring the kingdom’s genuine desire to diversify away from oil. Perhaps more than most, this pavilion offers a snapshot of a nation ready and willing to embrace change in the present as well as the future.
Indeed, the future features prominently in the pavilion’s exhibits. To avoid overuse of touchscreens during the pandemic, the designers elected instead to use motion-detection technology to allow visitors to explore Kuwait’s Vision 2035 without any physical contact with the equipment used.
The seven pillars of Vision 2035 are designed to solidify Kuwait’s leadership in the region, from the diversification of its economy and development of infrastructure and healthcare, to a focus on the nation’s human capital and global positioning. Sustainability is woven into each of these pillars, just as it is into every facet of the pavilion’s exhibits.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Kuwaiti pavilion is its emphasis on connectivity, in line with the overall theme of Expo 2020 Dubai: “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.” Underlying the astonishing architecture and captivating narrative lies the fundamental goal of connecting people with one another, with the environment, and with the best aspects of humanity.
While this is, of course, a nod to the theme of the Expo of today, it also references Kuwait’s history as a connector of peoples and cultures. As an active and busy port, its capital has been a cosmopolitan, connecting city for centuries.
This continues to be the case. Kuwait’s Public Authority for Civil Information estimates the country’s population was about 4.4 million in 2019, with non-Kuwaitis accounting for nearly 70 percent of this total.
Kuwait’s dialect, food and music all contain evidence of rich influences from Iraq, Iran, Zanzibar, Oman and the other cultures the Kuwaiti people came into contact with during hundreds of years of trade, travel, immigration and acculturation.
The story Kuwait chooses to tell about itself through its pavilion at Expo 2020 is multifaceted, mirroring the diverse nature of its society, from its focus on sustainability to empowering its youth to lead the country and its people into the future.
Kuwait has a track record of cultural transformations. At Expo 2020, the nation shows it intends to push ahead with its Vision 2035 development program through the lens of sustainability.
A visit to the pavilion offers guests a more critical understanding of where Kuwait stands today — and, perhaps more importantly, where it is plans to be in the future.
WASHINGTON: The United States plans to reroute $67 million of military assistance for Lebanon’s armed forces to support members of the military as the country grapples with financial meltdown.
According to a notification sent to Congress, the State Department intends to change the content of previously appropriated foreign military funding for Lebanon to include “livelihood support” for members of the Lebanese military, citing economic turmoil as well as social unrest.
“Livelihood support for (armed forces) members will strengthen their operational readiness, mitigate absenteeism, and thus enable LAF members to continue fulfilling key security functions needed to stave off a further decline in stability,” said the notification to Congress, seen by Reuters.
Washington is the biggest foreign aid donor to Lebanon. US officials had pledged additional support in October.
The news was praised in Washington. “It is in the United States’ national security interest to help these servicemen make ends meet and continue supporting the Lebanese people, and I’m really glad to see the administration putting our security assistance dollars to Lebanon toward that goal,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said in a statement.
Sunni Muslim leader Saad Al-Hariri announced his departure from Lebanese politics this week, opening the way for the Shiite Hezbollah to extend its sway over the country.
Hariri’s departure opens a new phase in Lebanon’s politics, governed by a system of sectarian power-sharing, and adds to uncertainty in a country suffering a financial crisis that marks its biggest threat to stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
More than half of Lebanon’s 6 million people have fallen into poverty. The World Bank says it is one of the sharpest modern depressions, with the currency plunging more than 90 percent and the financial system paralyzed.
Discontent has been brewing in the security forces as Lebanon’s currency has slumped, driving down soldiers’ wages. Many have taken extra jobs, and some have quit.
LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Friday that the UK stands “with our Emirati friends” following a deadly attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia last week.
Speaking during a phone call with her UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Truss strongly condemned the attack that killed three people and wounded seven others.
The Iran-backed Houthis launched a number of ballistic missiles and explosive-laden drones toward Abu Dhabi on Jan. 17 targeting fuel facilities of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and the airport. The militia renewed its attack on the capital on Monday and launched two ballistic missiles that were intercepted by the UAE with US support.
We stand with our Emirati friends after the deadly Houthi attacks on Abu Dhabi
Today I spoke to @ABZayed & agreed:
Houthi attacks must stop & we need a diplomatic solution
We continue to work closely on regional stability
Strengthening security & economic ties pic.twitter.com/413T55piOV
Truss said she and Sheikh Abdullah agreed that Houthi attacks must stop, a diplomatic solution was needed, and to continue to work closely on regional stability.
They “also stressed that these terrorist attacks undermine efforts to achieve security and stability in the region,” Emirates news agency WAM reported.
Truss offered her condolences to the UAE for the victims of the attack and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
The two sides also discussed the solid strategic and historical relations between them and their joint efforts to consolidate security and stability in the region, WAM said.
BEIRUT: Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi pledged that the Lebanese state “will spare no effort in thwarting all smuggling operations and preventing harm to our Arab brothers.”
He also announced on Thursday evening that the Anti-Narcotics Office of the Judicial Police, in cooperation with the Anti-Narcotics Division of the Customs, had seized about 12 tons of drugs hidden in boxes of powdered juice bound initially for Sudan.
Two days earlier, the minister revealed that authorities had seized a large quantity of captagon hidden in a tea shipment being sent by sea to an African country and then on to the Gulf.
The seizures come as Lebanon strives to show that it takes the smuggling of drugs to Gulf nations seriously, and highlight the effectiveness of its security and intelligence measures to combat the illicit trade.
Kuwait’s foreign minister said recently that he has given Lebanese authorities a list of suggested measures to be taken to ease a diplomatic rift with Gulf countries.
As part of efforts to repair strained relations between Lebanon and Gulf states, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah presented a new initiative during talks in Lebanon last week. It includes 10 items that “represent Arab, Gulf and international conditions for rebuilding confidence with Lebanon,” he said during his visit.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib will deliver an official response to the Kuwaiti initiative on Saturday.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati is trying to smooth the rough edges of the response, according to a source close to the PM, which will include a call for dialogue on the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons on the grounds that Shebaa Farms and Kafr Shuba are still occupied by the Israelis.
The source also said that Mikati reiterates Lebanon’s continuing adherence to the Taif Agreement that ended the civil war in the country, international resolutions and efforts to ensure the best possible relations with the region and the world.
The Kuwaiti initiative has been extensively discussed among members of the ruling Lebanese authority and it is understood the response has undergone several revisions.
Leaked information suggests that the initiative includes “harsh conditions, some of which are impossible to implement, such as Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the disbanding and disarming of all Lebanese militias.”
It also is said to call for Lebanon to adhere to political, economic and financial reforms, rehabilitate state institutions, adopt neutrality, respect the sovereignty of Arab and Gulf countries, halt any political, media or military interference in these countries, respect the decisions of the Arab League, and commit to international resolutions.
Other conditions include disarming all militias and extending government control over all Lebanese territory; serious measures to control Lebanese border crossings and prevent drug smuggling, including the adoption of a clear and decisive security policy that prevents the targeting of Gulf countries by drug-smuggling operations; measures to prevent interference by Hezbollah in the Yemen war; and taking firm steps to prevent any meetings or gatherings that might affect the internal affairs of Gulf states.
Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, said that the Kuwaiti initiative includes conditions that would require time to be implemented, and some that are contentious to the Lebanese.
“Discussing the issue of arms is dangerous,” Bassil, whose bloc constitutes President Michel Aoun’s team in the parliament, told Russia Today.
“There is Israeli aggression and Palestinian invasion happening on Lebanese territories, and external pressure on Lebanon leads to an internal implosion as the conflict becomes a conflict between those who support Hezbollah’s weapons and those who are against them.”
Nabih Berri, the parliament’s speaker, said his position on Hezbollah’s weapons has not changed.
“Some Lebanese lands are still occupied by Israel, which gives these weapons a reason to exist and gives Hezbollah and Lebanon the right to resist the occupation,” he said.
Although Hezbollah has not responded directly to the Kuwaiti initiative, the party announced that Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah will deliver a speech on Monday. It is not known whether he will be supportive of the initiative or renew his criticism of Gulf states.
Lebanon’s Al-Markazia news agency quoted a source close to the party as saying: “Nasrallah will focus on the reasons and motives that dictate Hezbollah’s adherence to the resistance as long as there is an inch of Lebanese territory occupied.”
In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan, a Shiite cleric affiliated with Hezbollah and the Amal movement, addressed “brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council” and said: “The enemy is Israel, not the Arabs, and the danger lies in Tel Aviv, not in Beirut’s southern suburb.
“The solution does not start with (UN Security Council resolutions). The weapons of the resistance are a guarantee for the Arabs and not against them.
“Today, the resistance’s weapons are a guarantee for Lebanon and the greatest national need to prevent any civil war, sectarian strife or an Israeli or takfiri invasion.”
DUBAI: For Sultan El-Halabi, Aug. 4, 2020, began like any other day in Beirut. He was driving with his mother from their hometown of Chouf to the Lebanese capital, where they checked into a sea-facing hotel to rest.
But shortly after 6 p.m., El-Halabi’s mother said she felt a strange rumbling sensation. El-Halabi crossed the room to the balcony to investigate the cause when all of a sudden, the entire window frame flew off, collapsing right in front of him. They were both lucky to escape uninjured.
“No one could have expected that to happen,” El-Halabi, a 23-year-old architecture graduate, told Arab News from his base in Dubai, more than a year on from the Beirut port blast — a disaster that killed over 200 people and left some 300,000 homeless.
“I remember the view of the city afterward. They were warning people at the hotel to stay indoors because acid or chemicals could be in the air. The sky started changing color. It was more reddish. It was like a war zone. Everything, in just one second, was completely gone.”
More than a year later, the scars remain visible on the city skyline. What is less visible are mental scars the blast has left on those who survived and who lost homes, businesses and loved ones.
“In Lebanon now, you should just live your day as if it’s your last,” El-Halabi said. “Always stay connected with your loved ones because you never know what could happen.”
The tragedy motivated El-Halabi to base his senior graduation project at the American University in Dubai on restoring the devastated port, transforming it into an accessible, multi-functional and job-creating site that can be “given back to the people.”
His project, named “Repurpose 607,” envisages replacing the five damaged warehouse plots with a memorial museum, a sound-healing therapy space, an amphitheater and an underground parking area.
The site would also feature a library, offices and a cafe, while a raised, circular footpath would offer visitors an overview of the port.
Flooded with natural light, the sound-healing therapy building would offer meditation and cognitive behavioral sessions to help those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the blast.
“For many people, until this day, if they hear a slight bang or any weird noise, they would always refer to the explosion or take cover,” El-Halabi said. Sound therapy could help many traumatized Beirut residents find calm and closure.
The proposed memorial museum would include a timeline of Beirut’s history up until the day of the blast and the names of its victims engraved on a large triangulated stone.
El-Halabi likens this tribute to how Americans honored the dead in New York following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“They did not rebuild where the Twin Towers were located,” El-Halabi said. “They dedicated that plot of land to the people and they transformed it into a beautiful memorial place to make sure that people’s memories would live on forever. It kind of inspired me to do something similar, but for Lebanon.”
The proposed site would have pedestrian paths as well as greenery and seating areas to offer space for quiet reflection away from the city traffic. A basement area would also be built to include a gallery for Lebanese artists to showcase their work.
Aesthetically geometric and bold, it is a place designed to benefit the people, to help them “to overcome the trauma and for them to see the beauty in the site rather than always fearing it,” El-Halabi said.
In his design, only one crucial element of the site remains untouched and preserved — the massive grain silos, which experts claim shielded the city from further damage. “It symbolizes strength and empowerment,” El-Halabi said. “It’s proof to the world that we could overcome any obstacle that we face.”
The young architect acknowledges it could take time for traumatized residents of the Lebanese capital to feel emotionally ready to visit a renovated site. “Of course it could be controversial,” El-Halabi said.
“Many people have different opinions and you can’t change them so easily. Everyone has their own freedom to view things the way they’re supposed to. But, I am able to at least enlighten them with the advantages behind this proposal.”
As a student embracing cutting-edge digital technology, El-Halabi admired the ideas of pioneering architects like Antoni Gaudí and Frank Gehry, and especially Santiago Calatrava, who designed the falcon wing-shaped UAE pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.
Having lived almost all of his life in Dubai, El-Halabi says he has also been heavily influenced by his ever-evolving urban surroundings — considered one of the world’s most dramatic and experimental cityscapes.
“It all started with dunes,” he said, reflecting on Dubai’s astronomical growth over recent decades. “They were able to convert the UAE into a heavenly place. It inspires me a lot. It shows that, in such a short time, nothing is impossible.”
He also subscribes to the notion that architecture is more than its stylistic elements, and should ultimately work to enhance people’s lives.
“It’s about finding the missing satisfaction of what people need and trying to provide it to them,” he said. “Architecture is more than just designing or placing a building. You need to take into consideration the people and provide facilities for them. It also needs to fit in perfectly with its surroundings.”
In October last year, as part of Dubai Design Week, “Repurpose 607” was among 60 submissions that made it to the MENA Grad Show, where graduates from across the region present their “design meets purpose” projects that address social, health and environmental issues.
Carlo Rizzo, the show’s 2021 edition editor, praised El-Halabi’s project, describing it as one of the “top entries.”
“Repurpose 607 struck me first of all for its empathy,” Rizzo told Arab News. “It’s an architectural solution that goes well beyond architecture. It looks at the built environment as a platform for building resilience in our communities and takes mental health and wellbeing as a starting point.
“To remember the victims and transform the site into a place of healing is not just a clever and thoughtful idea, but an urgent solution addressing a very real need.”
El-Halabi, who currently works for a Dubai-based architectural firm, still hopes to see his Beirut port project brought to life some day.
“I’ve been to Lebanon two times since the explosion,” he said. “Every time I pass by the port, I always picture how it would look in real life, trying to see my project being built there. It could have potential.”
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Bahaa Al-Hariri said on Friday that he would continue the journey of his father, the late Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri, and would “enter the battle to take back” the country.
Bahaa’s younger brother, Saad, a three times prime minister, announced earlier this week that he was not running in a forthcoming parliamentary election and was stepping back from his role in political life, calling on his political party to do the same.
Bahaa, 55, who has not held public office before and largely kept away from politics, said in a recorded speech sent to news outlets, including Sawt Beirut, that he “will fight the battle to restore the country and restore the sovereignty of the country from its occupiers.”
He added that “any misinformation or intimidation” alluding to a power vacuum among Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims “serves only the enemies of the country.”
Saad cited Iran’s influence as one of the reasons he saw little hope of positive change for Lebanon, an influence it wields through Shiite group Hezbollah.
Bahaa has been an open, fierce critic of his brother’s policy toward the Iran-backed group.
“The son of the martyr Rafik Hariri will not leave Lebanon, I am with you and very soon I will be among you,” Bahaa said in his speech.
Full address, as reported by Sawt Beirut:
“My Lebanese brothers and sisters…
Greetings from the heart…
The absence was prolonged, but you were always present in my heart and mind. I will not talk about the seriousness of the stage because you know its dangerousness and the accuracy of the upcoming stage.
First of all, it must be emphasized that neither our religion, nor our morals, nor our upbringing, we, the sons of Martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, allow us to abandon our responsibility and we put all our capabilities for the sake of Lebanon’s renaissance, Lebanon the message, Lebanon the symbol, Lebanon the homeland.
The family of the martyr Rafik Hariri, the small as his big family, did not, does not, and will not disintegrate. In partnership and solidarity, we will fight the battle to restore the homeland and restore the sovereignty of the homeland from its occupiers.
I will continue the path of Martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
We are continuing what we learned from the parents of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
We learned that:
We are the people of moderation, not extremism;
We are the people of reconstruction, not collapse;
We are people of citizenship, not discrimination;
We are the people of sovereignty, not dependence;
We are the people of the Arab depth;
The son of the martyr Rafik Hariri will not leave Lebanon, we are with you and very soon we will show you.
Long live free and independent Lebanon.