Mai accuses Mps of sending children to disrupt Spring of Culture Festival
- By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
Manama: Bahrain's lower chamber session was suspended yesterday after lawmakers clashed with the culture minister.
The session degenerated after Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammad Al Khalifa accused lawmakers of sending children and young people to disrupt the Spring of Culture Festival activities.
Angry MPs requested Speaker Khalifa Al Dahrani to suspend the session, but the controversy did not abate and Shaikha Mai reportedly told the lawmakers that they were not "man enough," one of the worst insults in the Arab traditions.
Her remarks prompted the lawmakers to claim that they would not convene until Shaikha Mai was removed from the government.
Several conservative lawmakers had opposed holding cultural activities in Bahrain and have called upon the minister to suspend them, arguing that Bahrain should show compassion and sympathy with the people suffering in Syria.
However, their calls have been resisted by Shaikha Mai and liberals who insisted on the significance of culture in promoting dialogue and interaction with other countries and civilisations.
The stand-off slid into controversy when reports emerged that a mosque across a narrow street from the Shaikh Ebrahim Cultural Centre, where cultural activities are held, was asked not to call for prayers and avoid the use of loudspeakers.
The reports were denied, but Islamists' groups used them to attack the Spring of Culture Festival, an annual event held in March.
On Monday evening, angry protesters met near the centre where Shaikha Mai and a large audience were attending a cultural event and shouted at them.
Shaikha Mai in November 2008 became culture and information minister in a limited cabinet reshuffle.
The former assistant undersecretary for culture and heritage was the second woman in the government, and the third woman to hold a ministerial portfolio. In July 2010, the culture ministry was set up after the former culture and information ministry was split up.
Shaikha Mai is popular among intellectuals and writers for her efforts to promote culture in Bahrain and for promoting respect for Gulf traditions abroad.
Instrumental in establishing several private institutions by buying and restoring old buildings, mainly in Muharraq, the traditional area of artistic activities in Bahrain, Shaikha Mai has also organised events to highlight the contributions of poets, intellectuals and thinkers.
She helped register Qalat Al Bahrain, an ancient sea-front castle that stands as a reminder of the Dilmun civilisation, on the Unesco World Heritage List and was the main driver behind the annual Spring Festival, a cultural event featuring performers from around the world.
Shaikha Mai 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 festival.