Was Cairo’s grand opera house a tool of cultural imperialism?

Fascinating piece by Adam Mestyan, History Prof at Duke University:

The new Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman and the brand new Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi revive vital questions. Are these new institutions instruments of Western domination, or are such cultural spaces compatible with Muslim social life? The theorist Edward Said argued that Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House was a folly and that Aida was a colonial opera. His book Culture and Imperialism (1993) very nearly equated European culture with European rule. Ever since, this idea about the cultural component of imperialism has played a dominant role in scholarship on empire. While a number of opera experts have since rejected the label of ‘colonial opera’, the idea of culture as a domain of imperialism and colonialism remains important in scholarship. Following Said’s logic, we should conclude that today’s new cultural institutions in the Gulf are representative of Western domination. But the question is an empirical one, and history tells us a more subtle and interesting story.


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