Senior Writer Mouwafak Chourbagui attended the region’s first conference on the role of media in protection of cultural heritage and was impressed by the organization’s work.
As one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, Egypt is naturally blessed with numerous cultural gems stemming from different periods of history. Some of them are well preserved, others are unfortunately in a dilapidated state, while a big chunk of our heritage is completely unknown to the general public.
That’s where Welad El Balad come in. Founded a few years ago by former founding editor of the English version of Al Masry Al Youm, Fatemah Farag, Welad El Balad is a local media company specializing in heritage conservation coverage and awareness campaigns. They are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the country’s impressive cultural heritage - and by heritage, they don't only mean buildings and landmarks, but also folkloric traditions - such as storytelling and proverbs - handicrafts and dialects.
This month, Welad El Balad partnered up with the Swedish Institute, inviting several media outlets for the first-ever regional conference on the Role of Media in the Protection of Cultural Heritage. Set to become an annual event, the theme this year was architecture and the aim of the forum was 'to focus on regional media as a major player in the work being done to conserve our architectural heritage'.
The event, hosted in Alexandria, spanned three days and included workshops and seminars. Prominent names gave speeches such as journalist Karima Kamal, the head of the culture section at Al-Masry Al Youm Maher Hasssn, archeologist May El-Tabbakh, film director Ayman Makram, author Khaled El-Khamisy and co-founder of the startup Bassita, Salem Massalha.
During the forum, the organisers shared photos of beautiful buildings in Assiout and Minya that many never knew existed. This is one of the biggest achievements for Welad Elbalad; their decentralization effort to ensure that the fight to preserve Egypt’s heritage isn’t restricted to the capital. In fact, the majority of their campaigns are taking place in Assiut, Qena, Alexandria, Siwa, Beni Suef, and Marsa Matrouh among other places.
The conference was interesting in that it aimed to remedy the shortage of media coverage dedicated to heritage conservation; the lack of media resources and attention allocated to the subject negatively impacts the relationship of citizens with their rich heritage. There were many talks about how lack of public awareness and negligence from major players led to the destruction of many gems across the region. But there were glimmers of hope too: Lebanese newspaper L’orient Du Jour shared how they helped save a 90-year-old building in Beirut from being demolished by publishing a social history narrative of the place that mobilized community members.
Indeed, the media has a duty to shed light on such a pressing issue, especially in a general context of issues such as economic crises which are threatening the rich cultural heritage that can be found across the region. By removing tangible traces of Egypt’s past, we are not only destroying the aesthetics of a bygone era, we are also stripping the current generation of the right to their history, their right to memory, and 'he who has memory has everything'.
That is why it is also important for citizens to play their part in this fight. Welad El Balad are not soliciting donations, but are simply asking us to help them spread awareness by sharing articles and/or by documenting examples of cultural heritage under threat. If you come across any historic building that is at risk of being demolished, please take a picture of it and send it to them.
To visit their website, click here
Image courtesy of Christopher Wilton.