Heritage, conservation and good governance: enhancing the heritage law framework in Saudi Arabia

Damna Abdulwahid S Alzahrani

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the international and domestic regimes for heritage protection. The thesis includes an historical and contemporary analysis of the World Heritage Convention, a comparative analysis of Western and Middle Eastern domestic regimes, and a focused exploration and analysis of the regime for heritage protection in Saudi Arabia. These analyses reveal that countries with strong civic institutions and processes have developed correlatively strong heritage protection regimes in governance and the law. The importance of pluralistic civil society is clear, as it produces research expertise in academia and non-profit organizations, in addition to engaging communities and people in interest group lobbying for heritage protection. The analysis also reveals the importance of representative government, which responds to civil society, interest groups and influence. As predicted, heritage protection is strongest in industrialised countries with pluralistic institutions and actors and representative government.

The World Heritage Convention has catalyzed and facilitated heritage protection in countries without the same level of civil society engagement and representative government by raising the awareness of authoritarian regimes about the necessity and benefits of heritage protection. In this way, the Convention has served as a type of international civic actor. However, as the analysis of Saudi Arabia reveals, heritage protection in authoritarian regimes occurs at the discretion of the leadership. This leads to lower levels of protection than in countries with higher levels of civil society influence and representative government.

In Saudi Arabia, heritage protection has suffered as a result of religious, commercial, and nationalistic interests that have determined the value of heritage, sometimes contrary to the Convention’s definition of outstanding universal value. However, there is evidence of fledgling norms of heritage protection emerging in Saudi Arabia, manifest in the recent passage of a new domestic legislation.

The thesis contains recommendations for improvements to the Saudi regime of heritage protection include the building of partnerships with international experts to serve as technical consultants and mentors to Saudi scholars. In addition, the Saudi regime must construct new governance and procedural structures that establish autonomy for the heritage system from commercial, religious, and state interference. Transparency in governance is also necessary to ensure decisions are made based on considerations of outstanding universal value. Saudi Arabia has a wealth of pre- Islamic heritage, as well as contemporary lived heritage, that deserves protection and will benefit from these recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Skead, Natalie, Supervisor
  • Techera, Erika, Supervisor
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


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