How art can help diffuse Middle East tensions

Story highlights

  • Tensions between Iran and some of the Gulf states have deteriorated in recent months
  • But cultural relations have persisted in some Gulf Arab cities through art
  • Dubai has led the way with exhibitions that have showcased Iranian art

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a columnist on Arab affairs. He is a Director's Fellow at the MIT Media Lab, which researches how technology, multimedia, sciences, art and design are converging. You can follow him on Twitter @SultanAlQassemi. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Over the past few months relations between Iran and the Arab Gulf States have gone from bad to worse. In January Iranian protesters torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran following Saudi's execution of an influential Shia cleric. Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf capitals then either cut or downgraded diplomatic ties.

This coincided with the lifting of sanctions against Iran, which were in place for over three decades. Ironically, these very Gulf cities, with their developed infrastructure and logistics hubs, were in a prime position to benefit from the sanctions relief. Instead, a period of uncertainty, not only diplomatically but also economically and socially, looms.