Algeria/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.2.4 Cultural diversity and inclusion policies

After independence in 1962, Algerian cultural policy was based on a purely Arabic-Islamic definition that has denied any cultural diversity. “Traumatized with more than one century of colonization of cultural settlement, and weakened by seven years and a half of the war for independence, which succeeded thanks to a holy alliance and consensus on identity, our young independent state has not seen or has not been able to undertake the cultural and linguistic diversity in the country after independence” [K. Toumi, Minister of Culture, 2005].

Post-1962 cultural policy silenced the voices of many Algerians, particularly those living in rural areas and who are largely marginalized. Minorities demanding to have their Amazigh identity acknowledged only began to garner attention after 1980, when the police in the Kabyle region of Tizi Ouzou violently crushed a parade demanding Amazigh identity. After this identity struggle, the neglected link in Algerian identity was finally acknowledged and included in the Algerian constitution of 1996: “The basic components of the identity of Algerian people are Islam, Arabism and Tamazight”. On this occasion, a high commission for Tamazight was created.

Today the Algerian constitution acknowledges all components of Algerian identity and authorities express the country's cultural diversity without reservation. However, a public opinion survey included in the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) report reveals that 45.2% of the people surveyed believe that the measures taken to advocate cultural rights are ineffective.

A number of associations who represent the various Algerian regional cultures hold several cultural events all over the country. For example, the following key events celebrating Berber culture are organized by local cultural associations in the “Kabyle” region: Amazigh Poetry Festival, Amazigh Theatre Festival and Amazigh Heritage Festival. The Tin Hinan International Festival is also organized in Tamanrasset in southern Algeria to celebrate Tuareg heritage.

The Algerian state, via the MOC, organizes a number of events that showcase various components of Algeria's identity. Underscoring the importance of this identity, a decree was issued concerning laws for the cinema sector in Algeria, which aimed at determining and promoting general rules for this sector. The new decree focused on the fact that films should not affect Algerian national identity, and those that did would be banned. At present, the culture of Gnawa—descendants of African slaves—is being celebrated, particularly Gnawa music, popular amongst the youth in big cities. Two Gnawa music festivals have been institutionalized recently, a national festival held in Bechar in southwestern Algeria and an international festival held in Algiers.

The MOC is also supporting Berber culture through various events designed to reveal the artistic expressions of the Tuareg, Chawi, Kabyle, Mizabi and other tribes. These events include the Local Cultural Festival for Tribal Music and Songs, National Days of Amazigh Theatre (under the sponsorship of the MOC and Tizi Ouzou governor), Local Festival for Tuareg Music and Songs, Local Festival for Chawi Music and Songs, Local Festival for Mizabi Music and Songs, Local Festival for Amazigh Music and Songs (held in Tamanrasset), and the National Festival in Gourara.

Other regionally specific festivals are held in the Arabic-speaking parts of Algeria such as the Local Festival for Music and Songs in Oued Souf, Local Festival for Music and Songs in Setif, Local Festival for Music and Songs in Oran, Local Festival for Bedouin Music and Folkloric Poetry and the International Festival for Andalusian Music.

In order to create a form of coexistence between all cultural diversities in Algeria, inter-governorate cultural exchange weeks are organized annually. These have included the Cultural Week of Media in Algiers, Cultural Week of Ghardaia in Tizi Ouzou, Cultural Week of Constantine in Oran and others. Additionally, an annual festival is held in all 48 governorates, intended to re-open exchange between Algeria’s diverse subcultures and encourage the concept of a united Algerian nation.

This acknowledgment of Algeria's cultural diversity is expressed through state commitment to international cultural initiatives. Algeria was the first country to ratify the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. And during the 2004 Islamic Conference of Ministers of Culture, it adopted the Algiers Declaration on Cultural Diversity and the Preservation of the People Identities and Heritages.

Chapter published: 03-05-2013