The Gulf Cup threw up an opportunity for Oman not just to celebrate its soccer skills, but to drum up its culture and heritage as well with an Al Azi lilt. Hasan al Lawati seeks to convey a tangible message.
It was impossible to miss Al Azi repeated on Oman Sports and Al Kass TV channels during the weekend when Oman won the Gulf Cup defeating the United Arab Emirates.
Al Azi is a patriotic poetry recital performed in the northern regions of Oman.
The Sultanate is rich with diverse performing arts such as Al Razha, Al Bar’a, etc., so why did they keep rerunning Al Azi for two days?
Perhaps a look back to the past would throw in some clues. Oman got the traditional performing art of Al Azi listed on the Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the Paris meeting of the UN body in 2012. Last month — that is five years after Oman had made the successful initiative — the UAE got its request to include Al Azi on the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding list granted by Unesco at a South Korean meeting.
Obviously, the UAE move has touched a raw nerve with Omani historians and media persons who have condemned it unanimously.
But Oman made sure not to cross the line. The country’s official media responded in a diplomatic manner, reporting the fifth anniversary of registering Al Azi on the Unesco list.
However, the dispute over Al Azi’s origins became obvious during the Gulf Cup when Oman TV played almost nothing but Al Azi during its coverage of the tournament.
Qatar too streamed Al Azi, and its Omani commentator sung the lyrics during the semifinal game between Oman and Bahrain.
Although fans and officials of the two neighbouring states displayed a remarkable level of sportsmanship, the conflict over historical facts was conspicuous.
A simple but significant message that could be communicated at the moment is: “Our culture is intangible”.