Bahrain opens Arabian Nights-themed national theatre

Tue Nov 13, 2012 12:04pm EST
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By Sami Aboudi

MANAMA (Reuters) - 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-colored 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.

The government said last week that five home-made bombs killed two people in Manama and accused the Lebanese Hezbollah group of being behind the attacks. Hezbollah, a Shi'ite group allied with Iran, has previously denied interfering in Bahrain.

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 organizations.

In April, the kingdom hosted guests from around the world at the Bahrain Grand Prix, signaling efforts to emerge from protests that had forced it to cancel the event last year.   Continued...

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (L) and Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa arrive at the inauguration ceremony of the Bahrain National Theatre in Manama November 12, 2012. The 1001-seat theatre, one of the biggest in the Arab world, is expected to host major international and regional events promoting arts and culture in the area. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah