Although I was very eager to attend the latest session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, I was unable to attend due to personal commitments in Egypt with regards to successive and overlapping archaeological restoration work, as well as the establishment of a number of new museums, and so instead my deputy, acting on my behalf, headed the Egyptian delegation at the convention that took place in the Brazilian capital in August.
The key decision taken during the 34th session of the World Heritage Committee was to proclaim Diriyah’s al-Turaif district a UNESCO World Heritage site, making t only the second World Heritage site in Saudi Arabia after Mada’in Saleh. I believe that there are many other archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia that deserve to be granted World Heritage status owing to their genuine cultural and historical importance. I believe that the Saudi Arabian Commission for Tourism and Antiquities has succeeded in preserving Saudi Arabia’s archaeological sites, and putting an end to transgression and violation of these sites, whether this is alteration or destruction, however the path ahead is long, and the Saudi Arabian Commission for Tourism and Antiquities is shouldering a heavy burden. This calls for alerting the public to the importance of preserving Saudi Arabia’s archaeological sites and heritage, whether this is Islamic or pre-Islamic, as this heritage represents Saudi Arabia’s identity.
Saudi Arabia is preparing for another site to be granted World Heritage status, and this is the “historical centre of Jeddah.” Saudi Arabia is preparing a dossier to present to UNESCO’S World Heritage Committee, and this file will be presented for discussion and examination at the next World Heritage Committee sessions that is scheduled to take place in July 2011. We wish our colleagues in Saudi Arabia every success in this regard.
I am glad that Arab countries have started to take serious steps toward preserving our cultural and historical heritage after years of negligence, where such archaeological sites suffered countless misfortunes and were not granted sufficient protection by the laws of the state or those in charge of protecting our heritage.
The Al-Turaif Quarter of Diriyah acquired special significance during the 18th and 19th centuries as this was the capital of the Saudi Royal Family, and represented the heart of the social and political defence that took place in the Arabian peninsula against the expansionist plans of the Ottoman Empire, and its representative in Egypt, Khedive Muhammad Ali Pasha. The district of al-Turaif, a portion of which has unfortunately been destroyed, features a unique architectural style that cannot be found elsewhere. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee acknowledged the authenticity and uniqueness of this architectural style, and that this site had not been exposed to any fundamental changes [with regards to its historical features]. The World Heritage Committee also acknowledged the spiritual importance of this site as it symbolizes a period of armed struggle and confrontation.
The importance of archeologically sites being granted World Heritage status is that this offers a powerful incentive for such locations to be preserved and developed which benefits the area surrounding this site, and the people living near it. In other words, all World Heritage sites should be open to tourism and visitation in order to take advantage of their importance. World Heritage sites should also be developed ensuring that the archaeological site and its authenticity are protected.
I hope that every Arab country develops a [governmental] body or ministry whose chief mission is to preserve the country’s heritage, whether natural or cultural, and that the national laws assist those in charge of preserving heritage to perform their role to the best of their ability. Once again, I say congratulations to our brothers in Saudi Arabia on their new World Heritage site.