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Reinventing, Reborn, Reopening: Vision of a UNWTO Secretary General Candidate

Reinventing, Reborn, Reopening: Vision of a UNWTO Secretary General Candidate
HE Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrain
Written by editor

President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities as well as Chairperson of the Board of Directors the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (ARC-WH), HE Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, has undertaken works on a massive scale. The relevance of her experience in the world-wide arena is important to take a look at as it relates to her candidacy for the new UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary General position.

HE Shaikha Mai has long been a leader in the field of cultural, sustainable, and responsible tourism. In her own country, she has worked tirelessly to develop a robust cultural infrastructure in support of cultural conservation and is widely recognized as a pioneering figure in the Arab cultural scene. In addition to her positions already mentioned, she also serves as Founder and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Shaikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Culture and Research.

There is one project in particular that is near and dear to her heart that involves the rehabilitation of the area of the city Muharraq in Bahrain, formerly the center of the global pearling trade and the economic cornerstone of the Bahraini nation until the 1940s. This Muharraq urban rehabilitation project has led to the inscription of Muharraq at the global level.

Muharraq: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Developing organically from an initial intervention in the early 2000s, this project has evolved into an exemplary integrated urban conservation and revitalization scheme encompassing protected oyster beds off the coast of Muharraq Island, a historic fort, historic buildings, a wide range of contemporary interventions to enrich public space. It has created a network of community public spaces and introduces sensitive architectural interventions to enable the neighborhood to serve its local community and to thrive as a cultural hub. The project combines restoration, urban upgrading, and contemporary architectural design and involves significant partnerships and effective systems of urban governance and management.

History of the project

This remarkable project germinated from an initial intervention by HE Sheikha Mai Al Khalifa to reinstate a cultural majlis (salon) which had been initiated by her grandfather (Sheikh Ebrahim Al Khalifa) in his home in al-Muharraq, formerly the capital city of Bahrain. Although almost all of the original house had been lost, the idea was to revive the cultural life of an area that had declined significantly since the demise of the pearl industry in the 1940s. Since the inauguration of the new majlis (the Sheikh Ebrahim Al Khalifa Centre for Culture and Research) in 2002, Sheikha Mai has led an ever-expanding program of cultural revitalization, leveraging support from a wide range of institutions including banks and local businesses, as well as creating private–public partnerships with descendants of the former pearling families who still own property in the area, much of which was terribly dilapidated.

The initiatives led by Sheikha Mai were founded on the belief that the reintroduction of cultural life into a neglected area, combined with an integrated program of restoration and rehabilitation could reverse its decline. Because of her successes (and tenacity) Sheikha Mai was appointed Minister of Culture in 2010.

This 15-year-long initiative has included a significant number of new cultural spaces including the Archaeologies of Green Pavilion (2015), the Dar Al Jinaa Centre for Traditional Music (2017), the House of Architectural Heritage (2018), and the Pearling Path Visitor and Experience Centre (2018). Uses given life from the project encompass public and commercial use as well as cultural activities and tourism in the form of the route itself including the visitor centers.

“We must continue to support sustainable tourism to drive socio-cultural progress and achieve greater economic prosperity,” said HE Shaikha Mai.