Lebanon ratified the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (UNESCO) in 2007.
The implementation of the Convention began in Lebanon with its role as a partner country with Jordan, Egypt and, in part, Syria, in the Mediterranean Living Heritage project (MedLiHer-UNESCO/EU, 2009-2012). As part of the project, an inventory of the existing structures, programmes and experiences for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage was made in 2009-2010. Similarly, inventories of declaimed or sung poetry, particularly Al-Zajal, were made in 2011-2012, resulting in the creation of a National Intangible Cultural Heritage Register in 2013 and the inscription of Al-Zajal as the first element on this register. At the international level, Al-Zajal declaimed or sung poetry was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2014.
The main result of this project was to build national and local capacity. Workshops, organized as part of this project or by UNESCO’s Regional Office in Beirut, trained members of a national team made up of officials from the Ministry for Culture, academics from various Lebanese universities and representatives of the country’s various communities and regions.
With the MedLiHer project, the country seemed to have made a positive start on implementing the 2003 Convention. However, changes that have taken place at the Ministry for Culture (retirement and transfers of officials) have been slowing the process down since 2014. In the same year, a decree for the creation of a Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the Ministry for Culture was promulgated as part of a restructuring of the institution (2008). However, this department is not yet operational and, consequently, activities relating to the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage have been shelved.
This absence of projects at the Ministry for Culture has been partially compensated by the development of very specific activities by UNESCO’s Regional Office in Beirut and the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO.
Thanks to a close collaboration between these two bodies, a project to draw up a sectoral cultural policy for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage was created in 2016-2017. Prepared in concert with the members of the former national team, comprising, as mentioned above, former officials of the Ministry for Culture, academics at Lebanese universities and representatives of the country’s communities, the project aims to relaunch activities for the implementation of the 2003 Convention at the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the Ministry for Culture. Its key objectives are to use the intangible cultural heritage to strengthen the national identity (which has been seriously eroded by the events that have taken place in Lebanon over the last 40 years), while respecting religious and ethnic diversity, and for the purposes of sustainable development. The main activities proposed by the project are the development of activities to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage, including inventorying, at the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the Ministry for Culture, the reconstitution of a national team dedicated to the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage in partnership with local communities, and national and local capacity-building. This project also entails a bill that, if passed, will regulate the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. The Ministry for Culture has been studying this project to draw up a sectoral cultural policy since December 2017.
At the international level, Lebanon has been sitting on the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2016, with a four-year mandate.