In a newish co-authored article in the International Journal of Cultural Policy, Morgaine Wood and I explore the seminal World Heritage listing of Al-Ahsa Oasis which caused shockwaves as it was upgraded from not inscribed to inscribed at the 42nd Committee session in 2018.

Abstract: At the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee (the Committee) in 2018 history was made: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s World Heritage nomination, ‘Al-Ahsa Oasis, an evolving cultural landscape’ (‘Al-Ahsa Oasis’), had received the worst possible draft decision from ICOMOS – that it ‘should not be inscribed’ on the World Heritage List. While the altering of draft decisions and ‘upgrading’ of nominations is now commonplace, Al-Ahsa Oasis was the nomination that broke the last barrier in this practice by achieving the ‘ultimate upgrade’ through its unprecedented inscription onto the List. In this article we explore the fall of the science-based compliance mechanisms that laid the foundation for this decision by the Committee. Drawing on participant observation at the session, audiovisual and statutory records, the Committee deliberations on Al-Ahsa Oasis are then dissected, drawing attention to how Saudi Arabia and its allies were able to write history by strategizing existing and emerging regime discourses on ‘representativeness’, ‘climate’ and ‘discord’.

Full reference: Hølleland, Herdis & Morgaine Wood 2019. An emotional plea for Al-Ahsa: a case study on how discourses of representativeness, climate and discord are strategized in the World Heritage regime. International Journal of Cultural Policy. Online First. DOI: 10.1080/10286632.2019.1646734.

Photo: Screenshot from the ICOMOS deliberations at the 42nd Committee session.