DUBAI: In 1851, the Great Exhibition aims to bring culture, history and innovation together in one place – London – for the whole world to see. Since that inaugural World Expo, however, more than 85% of global events have been hosted by European or North American cities.
A few notable exceptions are expos held in Asia, including Osaka in 1970, Aichi in 2005, and Shanghai in 2010, which nearly all set attendance records. But to date, these major events have been mostly northern and western hemisphere affairs.
This is why Expo 2020 Dubai has been such a big deal, not only for world expos, but also for the Middle East and North Africa region as a whole, with the Arab world taking the front of the stage for the first time.
As host, the United Arab Emirates offered the very essence of Arab hospitality, first by dedicating a pavilion to each participating nation and, second, by giving each nation its own “national day” throughout throughout the event. Saudi Arabia Day fell on January 7.
Expo 2020 Dubai also had a distinctly Arabic atmosphere. The site is dotted with traditional Arabic design elements, on its parasols, water fountains and even public seating.
It is a well-known fact that pavilion positioning is everything, often indicating a nation’s global significance and its relationship to the host. Through masterful design planning, the UAE was able to place the participating Arab countries at the heart of the action, giving them greater visibility and prominence.
Naturally, the UAE pavilion is the largest, taking the top spot. Its immediate neighbor is the impressive, world-record Saudi pavilion, and nearby are Morocco, Palestine, Egypt, Kuwait and other Arab countries.
The Saudi pavilion has achieved three Guinness World Records for the largest interactive light floor, the longest interactive water curtain and the largest interactive digital screen mirror. But he is not the only one to present avant-garde architectural ideas.
Many Arab pavilions are carefully designed with enormous appeal and cultural significance. They are also among the largest in the exhibit, and several have already been designated to remain as permanent structures at the site, linked to their nations as cultural centers after the event ends.
While the exhibition lives up to its theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, it also offers a visible celebration of Arab cultures and nations on the global stage.
World’s Fairs have long been used by participating states to present a national narrative, often designed to project the country in the most marketable way possible to boost trade and tourism.
Nations use events to communicate aspects of their culture and heritage, create mutual understanding and shape global public opinion through art, innovation, entrepreneurship, technology and politics.
The Arab pavilions at Expo 2020 Dubai each tell a different story. However, a series of common themes emerged: Heritage celebrations; concrete and incisive approaches to the future; and a focus on cultural, social and environmental sustainability.
Themes celebrating the past are normally divided between the ancient past, such as the Bronze Age settlements of Failaka Island in Kuwait, and the more recent past, before the rapid urbanization of the last half-century.
Indeed, Arab pavilions go to great lengths to pay homage to the exploits and wisdom of past generations. For example, the first exhibit in the United Arab Emirates pavilion features a stylized desert, with the soft, fine sand of the Emirati dunes used as a projection surface for old film reels paying homage to Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates.
In the nearby Vision Pavilion, dedicated to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, a video tour begins with the story of his time with a Bedouin leader in the desert as a child, and the lasting impact that connection with the land had on him. as a leader.
In the Saudi pavilion, ancient cultural sites, such as the tombs of Al-Hijr, the district of At-Turaif and the valley of AlUla, are presented in a striking visual tour of the rich cultural history and the natural beauty of the Kingdom.
The pavilion has hosted over 1,800 events, activities, programs and theme weeks that reflect the Kingdom’s vibrant society, long-standing heritage and new economic opportunities.
In the Oman pavilion, the emphasis on incense highlights the eye-catching landscape of the sultanate and its long trading history.
Far from focusing exclusively on their glorious past, Arab pavilions look to the future. Many have a concrete vision that highlights the goals set to achieve the desired development results.
Saudi Arabia has placed sustainability at the heart of its vision for the future, Vision 2030, which aims to diversify its economy, alongside a commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2060.
Egypt has its own Vision 2030 plan, announced in 2016, which sets eight national goals aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on an inclusive economy, education and the environment.
Sustainability is a prominent theme in all Arab pavilions, with particular emphasis on passing on cultural wealth, knowledge and prosperity to the next generation.
In this vein, the Kuwait pavilion addresses the resilience of its early colonies, while a stylized water tower in the center of the pavilion highlights how humans have carefully managed its natural resources in order to thrive there.
The pavilion exhibits also focus on Kuwait’s democratic system and investing in its youth.
The theme of overcoming adversity is found in several pavilions belonging to Arab states that have endured conflict and economic instability.
Although the Lebanon pavilion is much more austere compared to other Arab offerings, its message is a strong reminder of the resilience of its people.
Given the multitude of challenges facing the nation, the presence of the pavilion is a powerful statement in itself. Like Kuwait, the content of the pavilion focuses on the country’s youth, especially its artists.
Taken together, Arab participants at Expo 2020 Dubai have made good use of this global stage to showcase their achievements, heritage, ambitions and courage. In this sense, the exhibition can be considered an Arab triumph.