Algeria/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

The cultural policy in Algeria has been dictated by the state since independence in 1962 and has been formulated according to a centralized model in which the Ministry of Culture controls most cultural and artistic activities in the country [A. Khaled 2006].
This approach was boosted at the beginning of the 21st century with an unprecedented increase to the MOC’s budget and with the institutionalization of a number of festivals previously managed by associations. Additionally, some cultural structures previously owned by local authorities were turned over to the MOC.
The MOC is strengthening its supremacy in different areas. Through the local Directorates of Culture located in all the 48 Wilayas (governorates), the MOC maintains its regional presence and tries to achieve a regional cultural balance (see 2.1).
The activities conducted by local commissions (on governorate and municipal levels) generally remain insignificant compared to MOC-sponsored activities. The only exception is Algiers Governorate, which boasts a cultural affairs and services committee in a number of very dynamic municipalities whose activities equal those conducted by the Ministry of Culture. Which, for example, can sometimes decide to close an independent theater, as happened in the city of Mostaganem. A theatrical group had worked in this theater for 30 years, but the provincial administration decided to demolish the building and went through with it for reasons related to "tourism." This was despite opposition expressed by many artists to this decision.

Since 2000, the Algerian cultural sector has been recovering some of its freshness, and for the past four years it has begun a period of significant transformation. The cultural sector aroused an unprecedented number of controversies during the past few years, many of which developed among Algerian intellectuals and authorities contending that neglecting culture has a huge negative impact on the nation as a whole and was a causal factor in the country's tragedy of terrorism between 1990 and 2000.
Thus, the cultural sector is currently witnessing very important restructuring attempts. Led by the Ministry of Culture in particular, these attempts have centered around re-gilding the country's image abroad on the one hand (Algeria's Year in France, Algeria: Capital of Arabic Culture, the second Pan-African Cultural Festival of Algiers and Tlemcen, Capital of Islamic Culture), and, more importantly, shaping a strong cultural legislation on the other. Indeed this commitment, which often goes unnoticed, is turning Algerian cultural policy upside down. Only 623 ministerial decisions related to the cultural sector were published in the official gazette between 1982 and 1985. Between 1994 and 1996 that number had only grown to 745. But between 2005 and 2007, more than 2000 official decisions were recorded, mostly pertaining to organizing the state-run cultural structures, naming, removal of officials from office, and the institutionalization of artistic events.
During the past decade, several music, film and theatre festivals are held every year (Contemporary Music Festival, Folk Music Festival, Amazigh Film Festival, Comedy Festival, Amateurs Theatre, etc.). Many edifices designed to promote cultural production have been inaugurated or prepared (Museum of Modern Arts, Cinemathèque of Oran, Tizi Ouzou Local Theatre, etc.), in addition to a number of large-sized projects currently underway (Arabic-South American Library, Arabic Center for Antiquities, Big African Museum, etc.). A national agency was also created to manage large cultural projects, which consisted of producing general inventory of cultural wealth, a guideline plan, and other oversight tools.
The year 2011 witnessed a rally entitled “Tlemcen is the capital of Islamic culture”. This rally was a government project par excellence whose goal was to publicize and highlight the state and [government] systems in Algeria. During 2011, while the construction and building of some cultural facilities did take place in the city, they were merely government buildings devoid of any real cultural activity. It is worth nothing that independent cultural organizations and associations in Algeria were completely absent from this celebration.

Similarly, 2012 saw the launch of a project to establish a so-called "National Center for the Book." Moreover, a ministerial decision changed the organization responsible for organizing the book fair in Algeria from a temporary body convened a few months before the fair, to a permanent body whose works extends throughout the year. A so-called "National Council for Culture and the Arts" was also established, which is a council consisting of national art figures from various fields. The council's main task is to think about and reconsider laws governing the work of artists in terms of fundamental rights (social security, for example). However, since it's inception the council is still in the process of meetings and discussions, without any real or announced results. There is currently a study underway to access three new government projects, namely: the African Institute for the Arts, the Latin-Arabic Library, and the African Museum.

The phenomenon of “officializing festivals” continues til today. This phenomenon—which takes on a mandatory nature—has been ongoing for a number of years and targets festivals, aiming to impose official domination over the independent cultural scene in Algeria. The MOC transforms independent festivals into government festivals, and provides festivals with financial support. However, after a year or two, the ministry deliberately changes the festival's administration and replaces those in charge with people from the government. Thus, the people who founded the festival find themselves completely removed from the event. One of the most famous examples of this "officializing" was with the Rai Music Festival in the city of Oran. The government took over the festival, and after three years replaced the administration and moved the festival from Oran to another city, Tlemcen.

Although it has been witnessing a boom during the past few years, the structure of the cultural sector in Algeria is still deficient and lacking systematicity. The country's cultural policy remains hazy and ill-defined across all levels of specificity, with a clear devotion to the decision-making mechanisms within the official cultural institution, and through reinstating the same cultural minister until 2014. Also, it is difficult to estimate the size of artistic production because—as a whole—official artistic and cultural productions are reproduced in the form of ceremonies and festivals (although recently the focus has been on Arab cinema, and there have been two festivals organized in the cities of Oran and Algiers). Every year a major cultural event is organized by the Ministry of Culture. In 2007, Algiers was deemed the Capital of Arab Culture, in 2009, Algerian held the African Culture Festival, in 2011 Tlemcen was named the Capital of Islamic Culture, and 2012 witnessed the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence, etc.

Cultural Policies in the Independent Sector

In Algeria, the independent sector is still very limited. However, we can observe associations and organisms very close to the MOC taking over work at the regional level, and the growth of more independent associations. There are not many independent civil society institutions (there are only 5-6 independent cultural institutions). This weakness can be attributed to multiple factors, the most important being the difficulty of the Associations Act, which provides for the establishment of associations and independent civil institutions in Algeria. It is well-known that this is one of the most difficult association laws in the region, and since the beginning of 2012 it was amended to include additional provisions which increased the difficulty [of establishing associations]. Namely, all civil society associations were prohibited from receiving any financial support from foreign sources.

Another piece of legislation was issued concerning the subject of cultural funding by the private sector (sponsorship). It provides for financial cuts for private sector institutions that offer support and financing to organizations and events in the cultural sector. This law has pros and cons, the long and complicated administrative routine chain that regulates the process of implementing this law could push many figures to absence or be reluctant to participate.

However, it seems that the independent cultural sector in Algeria has gained a growing awareness in terms of moving outside of the government's framework for culture. This is evidenced by some Algerian artists who have managed to obtain funding from regional donor institutions, such as the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC). Moreover, some Algerian artists won some awards in the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last year.

Cultural Policy within the Private Sector

It is also very difficult to talk about cultural policies within a private sector that has yet to advance beyond the most remedial concepts of profit-making. Publishing houses, disc houses and other theatre cooperatives work to ensure financial profits, but systematic reflection on their achievement of stated cultural goals and their impact on public cultural consumption remains nonexistent, explaining the dearth of private sector cultural policies in Algeria.
The MOC’s cultural policy regarding private entities is one of regulation and support. The MOC regulates by controlling the cultural products of these companies (the Office of Copyrights (Droits d’auteurs et Droits voisins) for music and audiovisual, the license for the film sector, the number legal deposit and ISBN numbers for books, etc.), and supports by granting aid to theatrical cooperatives and books publishers.
If there is a form of cultural politics emerging in the private cultural sector it is coalescing around the printed book, particularly through the National Union of Algerian Publishers (NUAP), the Professional Union of Book (SPL) and more recently (late 2009) the Forum of Book Publishers. These organizations are beginning to have a real influence on policy decisions concerning the book trade as well as on events (book fairs, exhibitions, etc.) organized by the Ministry of Culture.
This effect appears in the joint publishing projects between the Ministry of Culture and a number of publishing houses, where the ministry gives relatively large financial support to publishing houses so that the latter can publish books recommended and submitted by the ministry. Books published through these projects have no chance of any real and wide distribution for sale and reading in Algeria, reinforcing the conviction that these publishing projects are a formality whose goal is to spend financial allocations that must be spent without taking into account the societal knowledge-based dimension of the publishing process.

Chapter published: 11-06-2013