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The palm tree joins the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Fourteen Arab countries worked together on the joint file to register the palm tree on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Reham El-Adawi , Saturday 14 Dec 2019
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Representatives of the Arab countries raising the flags of each country alongside with the flag of the ALECSO (Photo courtesy of the Culture Minister Media Office)
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On Thursday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) included the "palm tree" in the representative list of human heritage as a guide to Arab culture. 

Egyptian Minister of Culture Ines Abdel-Dayem stated this was achieved during the participation of the Arab delegation in the 14th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage at UNESCO held in Bogota, Colombia from 12 to 14 December.

"A new victory for the Egyptian and Arab culture on the global level was achieved after the Arab group succeeded in registering the file of "The Palm" – in addition to its related knowledge, skills, traditions and practices – in the Representative List of human Heritage," said Abdel-Dayem.

She added that "the palm tree is one of the symbols of the Arabism of the land and the human being, and recording the associated customs and traditions with UNESCO lists highlights the continuing endeavours to preserve the cultural heritage that characterises the Arab society."

Abdel-Dayem issued a decision for professor Mustafa Gad, dean of the Supreme Institute of Folk Arts, to travel to Bogota, Colombia, as a representative of Egypt to present the palm file that was well prepared in Luxor last year.

The Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism applied to inscribe the palm tree under the sponsorship of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO) as an Arab heritage element shared between 14 Arab countries, namely the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen.

The ALECSO held a meeting to discuss the nomination of the Palm file by members of the organisation including Egypt, and organised several meetings in Khartoum, Tunisia and Abu Dhabi to complete the final procedures.

Afterwards, the UAE coordinated to present the file on behalf of Arab countries.

Noura bint Mohamed Al-Kaabi, UAE minister of culture and knowledge development, thanked the Arab countries that worked alongside the UAE on the joint file for registering the palm tree on UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. She said it reflected Arab cultural unity and encouraged further collaboration to register more cultural and historical elements to safeguard them for future generations.

"People in the Arab region have a long historical relationship with the palm tree, which forms an integral part of our traditions and heritage spanning thousands of years," said Al-Kaabi. "Our forefathers relied on this tree to make their living and secure their survival, and today we are proud of its transformation into a global symbol of unity and solidarity between our countries’ culture, traditions and beliefs."

"We look forward to working with our partners locally and regionally to raise awareness about the importance of this tree as well as our shared culture, history, and work to preserve it."

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Members of the Arab delegation in Botoga, Colombia (Photo courtesy of the Culture Minister Media Office)

Representatives of the Arab countries celebrated the declaration of registering the palm file on the representative list of human heritage; they raised the flags of each country alongside ALECSO's.

According to Lotfy Ibrahim Al-Juhany of King Saud University, "The date palm is a major fruit crop in most Arab countries. It has historically been connected with sustaining human life and tradition of the people in the old world as a major agricultural crop. Arab countries possess 70 percent of the 120 million world's date palms and are responsible for 67 percent of the global date production.

"During the past 50 years, date palm groves were subjected to degradation due to extensive exploitation resulting from the increase in the human population and domestic animals," Al-Juhany says. 

"Like many other plants, some palms are in danger of dying out because of human activity. Date palm production faces serious problems such as low yields as well as marketing constraints.

"Over the last decade, productivity of date palm trees has declined in the traditional growing areas. As much as 30 percent of production can potentially be lost as a result of pests and disease. In the Gulf countries and Egypt, the Red Palm Weevil has recently become one of the major date palm pests, while Bayoud disease caused by a parasitic fungus is a common threat to date palms in North Africa. Technical and socio-economic factors contributed for date palm degradation. Also, date processing and marketing have affected the economic revenue from date production and its quality."

"Rehabilitation of date palm trees in the Arab countries is crucial and needs collaborative efforts and a dedicated budget," Al-Juhany says. 

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