Bahrain’s King Hamad opened one of the largest theatres in the Middle East this week as part of a drive to smooth over months of unrest that have rocked the Gulf Arab state.
But the creation of an elegant cubic glass structure with a golden-coloured roof by the seaside may do little to quell lingering unrest between the minority Sunni ruling elite and majority Shi’ite population of a small oil-producing Gulf kingdom that is also home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
The new 1,001-seat Bahrain National Amphitheatre was built at a cost $50 million with an Arabian Nights theme and will stage a busy season of performances that include Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo.
“This theatre adds a great deal, through cultural activities that bring people close and embodies the dreams of every citizen,” Bahraini Culture Minister, Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed al-Khalifa, told Reuters.
Bahrain’s government put down an uprising by Shi’ite Muslims demanding a bigger say in government just a few months ago. But violence has already picked up again and discontent lingers despite reform, including more powers for an elected parliament.
A dancer performs during the inauguration ceremony of the Bahrain National Theatre in Manama Nov. 12, 2012. (Reuters)
Bahrain also revoked the nationality of 31 leading dissidents, parliamentarians, clerics and human rights lawyers last week in a step that was condemned by rights organisations.
In April, the kingdom hosted guests from around the world at the Bahrain Grand Prix, signalling efforts to emerge from protests that had forced it to cancel the event last year.
“Bahrain is no exception to what is happening in the world,” Sheikha Mai said. “We are living a reality that consecrates the culture of hope and which presents all that is beautiful to residents and all those who love Bahrain,” she added.