Goethe in the Emirates

Culture as a Peace-Building Measure

Recently, the first joint office of three German cultural organisations was opened in Abu Dhabi. The region has become more important and Germany intends to strengthen its traditionally good relations to the Arab world. Loay Mudhoon reports

Abu Dhabi (photo: dpa)
With the new joint institute, the three German mediator organisations are reacting to the clearly increased demand for information in the Gulf region

​​The international services of the German Society for Technical Co-operation (GTZ), have been present in the gulf region for the last 25 years, whereas the Goethe Institute and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), are beginning to build a presence in this strategically important part of the Arab world.

With the new joint institute, these three German mediator organisations are reacting to the clearly increased demand for information and contact resources in the gulf region.

At the same time, DAAD and the Goethe Institute close a geographical gap in their presence in the Arab region. This joining of forces is supposed to mainly promote the cultural dialogue with the Arab and Islamic world, especially after the disturbances following the debate about the newspaper cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.

Increasing importance of the Gulf Region

"On a political and economic level, people have become more strongly aware of the gulf region in recent years," Elke Kaschl Mohni, director of the new office, explains. "In these areas, the relationship between Germany and the gulf states has been intensified.

But in the cultural realm, which I see of course as the very important third pillar of German foreign policy, nothing much has happened. And I think this is the main signal, that besides politics and economics, relationships can now be built also on a cultural level. The gulf belongs, of course, to the whole of the Arab world, which is a focus region anyway."

As foreign cultural policies are adapting to the changing political situation worldwide, the Arab world has moved more into the focus of these policies. The Goethe Institute sees language work as its main task in Abu Dhabi. German classes started recently with offers of four-weeks introductory courses.

"It is still just an office, and not yet a fully operating institute. That means I don't work here in all three sectors of the Goethe Institute, which are language, culture and information – but I am now mainly concentrating on language work, coupled with culture."

Co-operations with local institutions

"The second special feature of the office is that it's not only responsible for one country but should serve an entire region," Kaschl Mohni says. "

That means that in the set-up phase, during the first and the second year, the Goethe Institute should get to know the region and the possible partners in order to get a clear picture of the interests and needs here – so that we then can determine the medium as well as long-term goals, and also the form in which we would like to be present here."

In addition, the Goethe Institute supports German language education in the region through co-operations with local education institutions. A first "Memorandum of Understanding" was signed by the Goethe Institute at the opening ceremony with the "Petroleum Institute", a private college in Abu Dhabi that is supported by the national oil company in the United Arab Emirates.

And since September of last year, more than 60 emirate students are successfully learning German with a teacher delegated by the Goethe Institute. For director Kaschl Mohni, the co-operation with other German partners is another distinctive feature of the new office.

Besides promoting German language and culture as well as advertising for Germany as a place to study, the new office is supposed to also play an active role in the creation of a competent and peace-inducing dialogue between the cultures.

"I think, after September 11th 2001, the Arab region has become a focus, in the sense of a conflict region, where the front lines have hardened up, as seen most recently in the argument about the Mohammed caricatures," Kaschl Mohni explains.

"In this context, the work of the Goethe Institute is very important, because it promotes the exchange and reflection of values, differences and perceptions."

Loay Mudhoon

© DEUTSCHE WELLE 2006

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