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Heritage – for Whom and Why?

Global, National and Local Processes in the Course of Heritagization by Using Examples of World Heritage Sites in Jordan and Egypt

: Dr. Meike Meerpohl

In my research I draw attention to different points of conflict which may occur over the course of heritagization. Due to the fact that preservation is always based on a selection, because not everything can be preserved, the selection of a heritage site results in conservation processes, interpretation and finally the use of heritage, which may lead into a number of conflicts. The UNESCO sites of Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan as well as Saint Catherine in Egypt are used as particular case studies to discuss dynamics of potential conflicts which arise between actors and administrative levels based on different interests in the sites and uneven power relations.

The historical town of Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. In preparation for the declaration a master plan was developed including a forced relocation of the local population. This relocation led to different conflicts between stakeholders, managers, units of local population and government representatives. By looking at this case, the question arises: whose heritage is being preserved in Petra?

Wadi Rum was declared a mixed natural and cultural site in 2011. Before the inscription, similar to Petra, representatives of government, organization and local population had struggled for ownership rights. In comparison to Petra, the local population in Wadi Rum finally managed to be involved in decision-making processes and is nowadays one of the few UNESCO sites worldwide which is fully managed by the local population.

The biblical site of Saint Catherine in Egypt, where according to the Old Testament, Moses received the Tablets of the Law, is sacred to the three world religions Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and was inscribed in 2002 on the list of the UNESCO. For centuries, Bedouins and monks have been living in peaceful coexistence and cooperation in the sacred mountains of Sinai. With the inscription, an extensive management program started with several projects of multi-millions involving the local population. Nowadays, the site is facing a number of challenges with a resulting risk of a general deterioration and the arising question of sustainable developments of heritage sites.

Taking these examples, I focus on different questions: The consequences of the inscription on the list (improvement or further deterioration), the locals’ involvement in the management, the dynamics of conflicts arising from different interests, the equal or unequal participation in social and political processes and the access to power and resources.

Within a process of heritagization, it seems that a world heritage site is often used as resource which various actors would wish to use differently. Taken into account that unequal rights of access to resources and power, to control and management create unbalanced ownership rights and conflicts. They often result in a site’s marketing as a resource in order to make financial profit, but giving advantage to only a few.