» Cultural heritage and identity in the Arab region – young people’s views …
07.03.2017 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Cultural heritage and identity in the Arab region – young people’s views …

Mr Houcine Abassi, Ms Nada Al-Nashif © UNESCO

Young artists, activists, professionals, academia and experts, and local authorities from Algeria, Bosnia Herzegovina, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Mauritania, Palestine, Switzerland and Syria, gathered at the regional conference “Cultural heritage and identity: an Arab youth perspective” organized by UNESCO in Tunis-Carthage, from 1 to 3 March 2017. One major question on the agenda: in a region where conflict and violence are pushing communities and societies to the edge, how are young people using the power of culture and arts to resist, preserve and rebuild their society and its diverse identities?

You made a great achievement today – together youth formulated contextualized avenues of action that showcase culture can and will further leverage democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in our societies in the Arab region,” said Salah Khaled, UNESCO Representative for the Maghreb.

In this context, participants emphasized the notion of “diversity” which is a fundamental condition for the development of cultures and arts, for democracy, and certainly for a sustainable peace, as stated in the 2001 “UNESCO universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity”. Amidst a world, that sometimes feeds despair and disillusion, cultural heritage and arts impel hope and foster awareness of a multilayered history and identities. They are what gives sense to human dignity; they are the conditions for a meaningful citizenship.

The Arab region is facing a historical turn. Young women and men are the central actors who could overcome in a unique way what Amin Maalouf calls “les identités meurtrières” *. To this end, UNESCO has been called upon to help operationalize the visions and the set of proposals collectively envisaged and put forward during the conference. These include the following:

1.    Formal and non-formal education and training to cultural heritage needs to be more and better delivered, to overcome ignorance and misconceptions on the region’s cultural legacy, and also to use culture as a means of social and economic inclusion.

2.    New models of youth-led and gender-sensitive social and private entrepreneurship must be encouraged and supported, capitalizing on cultural heritage resources, especially targeting the less qualified and most vulnerable youth affected by crisis and conflicts.

3.    UNESCO shall advocate for cultural and artistic public policies that further protect artists, facilitate their works especially in the public space, increase dialogues collaboration between institutions and civil society organizations, support youth-led initiatives and innovations.

4.    The issue of “Diversity” and “Reconciliation” must be addressed in artistic and cultural undertakings, in order to develop the sense of love, ownership and a culture of care for the cultural heritage, and overcome the illusion of exclusive and violent identities and foster intercultural dialogues.

5.    Wide and interconnected platforms for youth civil society organizations must be set up to efficiently and creatively advocate for the protection of cultural heritage, with the help of academia, professionals, policy makers, and local authorities.

6.    The potential of ICTs and social media must be better exploited in the service of cultural and artistic projects. This is fundamental to facilitate youth’s access, understanding, interaction, and ownership of cultural artefacts.

7.    Initiatives shall be conceived and supported in using ruins as a vehicule for youth-led and peer-to-peer powerful storytelling. This will build counter-narratives, and demonstrate youth’s civic engagement in documenting and reinterpreting the fragments of devastated heritage.

8.    UNESCO shall provide labels for innovative youth-led projects that have been successful in strengthening and sustaining peace, democracy, and active citizenship, launch a UNESCO Prize for “Young Arab Heroes for Cultural Heritage Protection”, set up a programme of Young Goodwill Ambassadors for Heritage protection campaign, as well as a regional Arab competition for innovative ideas to engage young audience in protecting and rebuilding heritage.

9.    All stakeholders shall advocate for an enabling environment of cultural mediation and creative management, allowing young creators to sustain their productions and ensure a wide social outreach.

10.    UNESCO should advocate for international donors – public and private – to be more sensitive to support culture and arts as a powerful levers of development, peace, and democracy building. Such a task is to be carried out both in conflict, post-conflct, and transition period, as an articulated strategy of preventive conservation.


* In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong is a book by Amin Maalouf, published in 1998.

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