First Published: 2005-12-07

Sultan Bin Tahnoon: Our cultural heritage is precious thing that we must protect

Abu Dhabi hosts regional meeting of world heritage in Arab states, unveils strategy to better protect it.


Middle East Online

By Abdenasser Nahar - ABU DHABI

Cultural heritage is visible in many aspects in UAE

At the Opening Ceremony of the “World Heritage in the Arab States: Follow-up to Periodic Reporting and Information Management” Regional Meeting, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, delivered a speech underscoring that this is one of the most important events hosted by the United Arab Emirates, as it aims at promoting cultural dialogue between the Arab states as well as coordinating their efforts to better protect their heritage.

“The 21st century has witnessed many serious challenges at all levels as a result of the scientific revolution and technologies in the field of information and communication which reduced our world today to a small global village. Therefore, affecting or getting affected by your surroundings has become stronger and faster than what you might imagine. This, in fact, has affected the social and cultural aspects of our societies and endangered historical, civilizational and cultural heritage, putting it at the verge of distortion and extinction. Our Arab world is no exception. It’s rather at the center of this problem. Therefore, we must conserve our cultural heritage and promote it in order to strengthen our identity on the one hand, and keep abreast with modern life on the other.” Sheikh Sultan stated.

“The solid cultural ground we stand on here in this part of the world which dates back to thousands of years makes us proud of our Arab identity. Our cultural heritage is not only a legacy that was left to us by our ancestors, but a precious thing that they entrusted to us and we must protect,” he added.

Here in the United Arab Emirates, particularly in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the issue of cultural heritage has become part and parcel of the development process witnessed by the country. This is visible in many cultural, economic, infrastructural, tourist, scientific and religious aspects.

Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon pointed out that the important role played by heritage in integrating cultural information to ensure educated society that is proud of its values compels us to adopt a certain philosophy and mechanism to increase public awareness about our cultural heritage and its influence on others. The best example here is our Arab heritage and its positive role in the development in the West.

“Based on this, the Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority has signed an agreement with the UNESCO for the protection, conservation and proper management of Abu Dhabi’s rich cultural resources. In this connection, a comprehensive strategy for the management of the Cultural Heritage in the Emirate has been prepared.” He said

Sheikh Sultan then made clear that the Culture and Heritage Agency which was founded in October 2005 was another step to take care of all aspects of Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage. These steps translate the vision of President, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who unlimitedly supports all efforts to conserve, promote and present our heritage. They also come in line with the instructions of General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces to promote heritage as one of the main elements of tourist attraction. The United Arab Emirates pays special attention to heritage in the footsteps of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

“Our achievements of today and our future aspirations in the field of heritage are aimed at conserving and restoring it in order to become part of our daily life.” He added

Finally, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, extended his thanks to the UNESCO for providing their expertise in developing the Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage Management Strategy, to the local and international institutions who are represented at the meeting, to diplomats and cultural experts for their role in enhancing cultural interaction, and to the Higher Organizing Committee, the sub-committees as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Center for their efforts. He also expressed his appreciation for the role of the media in taking the proceedings of this meeting to the world, hoping that the conference will achieve its objectives and come up with recommendations and mechanisms which will contribute not only to conserving our heritage but also presenting it to the world and other generations.

Bouchenaki: Abu Dhabi Strategy could be an Example for many Countries

Dr. Mounir Bouchenaki, UNESCO Assistant Director General for Culture, confirmed that it is the first time for UNESCO to have the opportunity to meet with heritage officials from Arab states, and to set forth issues related to heritage assessment and inscription of new sites on the World Heritage List. He also confirmed that the ‘Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage Management Strategy’ could be an example for many countries in this field.

“Identifying a site by the World Heritage Committee for inscription on the World Heritage List is just a step to be followed by others; assessment and follow-up are major responsibilities of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. And recognizing one site doesn’t mean that the other sites are not important; on the contrary, this should be a motive for inscribing and preserving those sites too.” Dr. Bouchenaki stated

He also pointed out that heritage issues in the Arab World, especially the ones connected with construction and modernization, are facing many obstacles, and if the great value of heritage sites is not taken into consideration, there will be serious negative consequences on the Arab states heritage.

“UNESCO highly appreciates that an Arab state for the first time takes the responsibility of making a plan to protect heritage. 2 years ago in Abu Dhabi, a study of how to preserve the cultural, natural and tangible heritage of the Emirate was initiated, and this required preparing an integrated strategy for preserving heritage and using it properly” Dr. Bouchenaki added

He finally expressed his great pleasure for participating in the launching of the ‘Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage Management Strategy’, and extended his thanks and appreciation to the UAE authorities for organizing the Regional Meeting, which proves their deep understanding for the importance of heritage and culture in life.

Al Mazrouei: The creation of a new Authority for cultural heritage in Abu Dhabi will certainly entail major efforts to promote the cultural heritage of the Emirate and of the UAE

‘Abu Dhabi cultural heritage management strategy launched

On the occasion of the two major events Abu Dhabi is hosting today: the World Heritage in the Arab States Regional Meeting and the Launching of the Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage Management Strategy, His Excellency Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, Chairman of the Organizing Committee underscored in his speech on the opening day of the Regional Meeting that these events concretize the vision of Abu Dhabi and its on-going efforts to conserve and enhance its cultural heritage, which is an integral part of the collective heritage of our Arab Nations. “Our countries are blessed with a long history spanning several millennia and a rich living heritage which is intrinsic to our daily lives and beliefs. The responsibility to look after and enhance this heritage is but accentuated by the scale of our cultural resources.” He added

Al Mazrouei revealed that current efforts to safeguard and promote Abu Dhabi’s heritage are on the march, and the Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage Management Strategy outlined the critical issues affecting the preservation and promotion of the cultural resources of the Emirate, but more importantly, it stressed the need for developing the framework for the future work. “This started with the creation of a modern and powerful cultural heritage authority: The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage established in October 2005 with a mandate to look after all aspects of the cultural heritage of the Emirate, including the tangible and intangible heritage. The mandate of the new Authority is comprehensive, archaeological sites and historic buildings are but aspects of a wider heritage encompassing cultural and natural landscapes as well as popular traditions, customs and beliefs; all in all, the approach is holistic since sites exist within their wider historical, natural and social settings. Additionally, the new Authority will be busy establishing the strategic framework for its work in collaboration with its main stakeholders consisting of governmental, private and non-governmental organizations and institutions, but most significantly with the support of civil society. We also look forward for engaging international organizations in the Arab World and beyond with the aim of encouraging cultural dialogue and making the accessibility and appreciation of Arab culture more widespread, particularly in these times of global trouble.” He said

His Excellency M K Al Mazrouei, Chairman of the Regional Meeting Organizing Committee, made clear that while hosting this important meeting for World Heritage in the Arab States, Abu Dhabi stresses its support of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, ratified by the United Arab Emirates on the 11th of May 2001. “The nomination of cultural and natural sites on the World Heritage List is not a matter of mere prestige in our view; it is an opportunity to reinforce a country’s commitment to looking after its heritage whose values and appreciation are hereafter to be shared with the wider international community. It is also an opportunity to reform a country’s administrative and operational structures so as to provide the best in conservation and management for its heritage, including the sites of exceptional cultural and natural value.” He added

“The creation of a new Authority for cultural heritage in Abu Dhabi will certainly entail major efforts to promote the cultural heritage of the Emirate and of the UAE. In fulfilling our responsibilities of safeguarding and promoting the heritage of the Arab States, we look forward to nominating major cultural sites from the UAE for inclusion on the World Heritage List.” Al Mazrouei concluded, encouraging the audience to join the trip scheduled on Thursday the 8th to the Historic City of Al Ain where a glimpse of some aspects of the cultural and natural heritage of this country could be seen.

Focus on education as a tool to protect heritage, Arab States told

Arab countries should focus on education as an effective tool to protect their cultural and natural heritage, said Veronique Dauge, Chief of the Arab States Unit at the UNSECO World Heritage Centre.

“Education is one of the most effective tools in protecting cultural and natural heritage. As the Arab world has a rich heritage, both cultural and natural, countries here should opt for educating their people on the importance of their heritage. Most importantly communities around sites should be made aware of important cultural identity to feel that the site belong to them and their children, Mrs. Dauge stated.

On the role of the UNESCO, she said the international organization’s World Heritage Center, being aware of the need for protection of heritage of “outstanding universal value” against the dangers which increasingly threaten it and passing it on to future generations, provides assistance to Arab states Parties to the World Heritage Convention for the conservation of the properties, management training and awareness-raising of all the national and local persons concerned.

“We help them out through organizing training workshops by a good network of experts and most importantly through capacity-building,” she added.

She pointed out that since UNESCO’s creation in 1945, the organization has been deeply involved in assisting its Member States to protect and restore their cultural and natural heritage. “A major turning point in its efforts was the adoption, in 1972, of the World Heritage Convention. Although it is famous, few people are familiar with the Convention and the significance of the World Heritage sites which serve as points of reference, landmarks to remind us of the extraordinary achievements of humanity, the biodiversity of the planet as well as some of the events which have marked human history.

Asked about the importance of the Convention, Mrs. Dauge said the most significant feature of the agreement is to online together, in a single document, the concepts of nature conservation and of the preservation of cultural sites.

“The World Heritage Convention is not only “words on paper” but is above all a useful instrument for concrete action in preserving threatened sites and endangered species.

On the benefits enjoyed by inscribed sites under the Convention, she said the status of World Heritage brings attention to the site and surrounding to the site and surrounding area, attracting international funding for conservation and potential increases in tourism. It also reinforces political commitment to protecting and developing the sites in a sustainable manner.

Mrs. Dauge pointed out that over the past three decades, there has been an enormous increase in the nomination of sites as World Heritage, from 12 sites in 1978, to 812 sites now, of which 628 cultural properties, 160 natural properties and 24 mixed sites. 180 countries have ratified the Convention, out of which 43 do not yet have properties inscribed on the list.

In the Arab world, all 18 states have signed the Convention and host 61 sites, 56 cultural, 4 natural and 1 mixed.

Mrs. Dauge however pointed out that from these figures, there is clear unbalance between cultural and natural heritage sites. “One can wonder whether this reflects a lack of concern for environmental issues which needs to be addressed,” she asked.


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