Action plan to better preserve and access documentary heritage adopted for the Arab region

With sixteen Arab countries participating, over 70 representatives from government ministries and departments, memory institutions, Memory of the World (MoW) national committees, academic  and research institutions as well as civil society adopted a pan-Arab action plan for implementing the 2015 Recommendation concerning the preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage including in digital form, thereby setting the tone for national and regional collaboration in carrying out activities aimed at the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage in the Arab world.

This event came in the wake of other similar consultations held by the MoW Programme Secretariat in June and October in Africa as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean respectively.

Organized in Tunis, Tunisia, from 5 to 6 November, the Arab consultation was preceded by a high-level symposium opened by Tunisian Minister of Cultural Affairs, Mohamed Zine El Abine. Speaking on his behalf, Fawzi Mahfoudh, the minister’s advisor, pointed to the Arab civilisation as one of words and books which had resulted in one of the biggest number of documents.

He argued: “Digitizing and giving access to such a wealth of documents will be a huge step in preserving Arab heritage. There is thus need for cooperation between Arab and Islamic countries and western countries which may have such Arab/Islamic heritage in their possession.”

Echoing the minister’s word’s, Ms Hayet Guemazi, Director of Culture at the Arab League’s Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (ALESCO), paid glowing tribute to the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation, arguing that it provided a robust framework for forging inter-State cooperation on documentary heritage in support of cultural exchanges, research and efforts at peace-building and sustainable development.

Representing UNESCO, Golda El Khoury, Director of the Rabat Office and Representative to Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia, highlighted capacity building as key to preservation of documentary heritage, adding that such capacity building needed to be linked to cultivating effective relations with the media and educational institutions.

The participants heard from various experts, including Fackson Banda, Programme Specialist responsible for UNESCO’s MoW Programme, Knowledge Societies Division, who presented a strategic overview of how the Programme was implementing the 2015 Recommendation as an integral part of sustainable development initiatives.

A key theme running through several of the presentations was the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as an innovative strategy for reinforcing efforts at preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage in the Arab world.

The meeting also made the case for creating national committees of Memory of the World as well as a strong regional committee. 

In this regard, after in-depth deliberation, the participants committed themselves to stepping up efforts for the formation of a pan-Arab committee of MoW, with ALECSO undertaking to provide the administrative and inter-governmental backbone for such a cooperative structure.

This effort is set to reinforce existing regional committees of MoW, including MOWCAP for the Asia-Pacific region, MOWLAC for the Latin America and Caribbean region and ARCMOW for the African region.

The consultation is a culmination of groundwork by the MoW Programme as a strategic response to the adoption by the UNESCO General Conference of the 2015 Recommendation.

UNESCO launched the MoW Programme in 1992 to guard against collective amnesia through the preservation of valuable archive holdings and library collections all over the world. In so doing, the programme also ensures wider access to such heritage. The programme is thus intended to protect documentary heritage, and to help networks of experts to exchange information and raise resources for the preservation of, and universal access to, such documentary heritage.