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Shaikha Mai: Standoffs and controversies

Conservative MPs opposed cultural activities

Gulf News

Manama: Shaikha Mai, the former assistant undersecretary for culture and the minister of culture and information, has had several standoffs with conservative MPs over the cultural activities she has organised.

In 2012, several MPs called upon the minister to suspend cultural events, arguing that Bahrain should show compassion and sympathy with the people suffering in Syria.

However, their calls were resisted by Shaikha Mai and liberals who insisted on the significance of culture in promoting dialogue and interaction with other countries and civilisations.

The standoff slid into controversy when reports emerged that a mosque across a narrow street from the Shaikh Ebrahim Cultural Centre, where cultural activities were held, was asked to avoid using loudspeakers and not to call for prayers.

The reports were denied, but Islamists’ groups used them to attack the Spring of Culture Festival, an annual event held in March.

In April last year, angry protesters met near the centre where Shaikha Mai and a large audience, comprising dignitaries and diplomats, were attending a Qanun recital and shouted at them. The guests had to leave under security escort.

Shaikha Mai is popular among intellectuals and writers for her efforts to promote culture in Bahrain.

Instrumental in establishing several private institutions by buying and restoring old buildings, mainly in Muharraq, the traditional area of artistic activities in Bahrain, she has also organised events to highlight the contributions of poets, intellectuals and thinkers.

However, she has often been targeted by conservatives “for challenging local values and traditions and promoting onerous and useless activities under the banner of culture”.

She courted controversy in 2007 after a parliamentary ad-hoc panel pronounced her guilty of gross negligence by allowing a Lebanese dance troupe to stage a “sexually-charged and depraved show” during the Spring of Culture festival.