DOHA: Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said yesterday his country had become “stronger” since the start of a Gulf diplomatic crisis almost two years ago, as he formally opened the country’s national museum. He made the comment during a speech at a glittering ceremony in Doha to open the estimated $434 million building, with guests including Kuwaiti and British royals, film star Johnny Depp, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni, Jose Mourinho and Victoria Beckham.

“Qatar has become much stronger since June 2017,” said the amir. “The citizens have defended the dignity and the truth, with the consequences of strengthening the country.” Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar in June 2017 over accusations it supports terrorism and is seeking closer ties with Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran. Qatar rejects all the charges and says the dispute is an attack on its sovereignty.
The enormous 52,000-sq-m National Museum of Qatar is located on Doha’s waterfront corniche. It tells the story of Qatar’s bedouin past and colonial times to its energy-rich present, reflecting on the country’s wealth and ambitions. French architect Jean Nouvel, who designed the museum in the shape of a desert rose, said it would become “an icon”.

DOHA: Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani poses for a group picture with children during the official opening ceremony of the National Museum of Qatar yesterday. – AFP

Sheikha Al-Mayassa Al-Thani, chair of Qatar Museums and a member of the royal family, said the blockade had not delayed the museum’s opening date. “The blockade hasn’t affected us one bit,” she told AFP during a preview tour of the museum. “We are very proud and happy and, in fact, all the people are welcome to this museum and we remain open to the rest of the world,” she said. “We are more than proud of this achievement.” Sheikha Mayassa, sister of the ruling amir, is considered one of the world’s most important art buyers after making a string of high-price acquisitions in the years before Qatar was hit by an energy price slump in 2014.

The museum is the latest move in Doha’s campaign for regional dominance in arts and culture that has seen big-ticket acquisitions, new galleries, film festivals and international exhibitions by artists like Damien Hirst and Richard Serra. The museum includes winding floor space, an artificial lagoon, and the restored palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al-Thani, who ruled until 1949.

Set along the Doha seaside and over a decade in the making, the museum’s exterior is a tangle of massive interlocking discs that evoke the shape of a desert rose, a design Nouvel said was a big technical challenge. “It creates a variation of space and unexpected spaces and unexpected proportions. I think the visitor will be surprised,” Nouvel said yesterday. The interior features walls splashed with looping videos on Qatar’s desert life and pearl diving in past eras, plus digital archives about life under Ottoman and British rule. – Agencies