Algeria 2011: The Domestication of Culture

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Dancers perform on 16 April 2011 during the official launch of "Tlemcen, capital of the Islamic culture" in Tlemcen. (Photo: AFP - Farouk Batiche)

By: Said Khatibi

Published Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The year 2011 has put Algerian intellectuals in a position where they have had to choose between peaceful public confrontation and silent complicity. Many preferred the latter option, parroting the regime’s dictum, “Algeria is not Tunisia or Egypt.”

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and the developments in neighboring Libya were clearly reflected in the intellectual and cultural spheres of public life in Algeria.

Some famous writers and artists, such as the singer Amazigh Kateb, and the composer al-Safi Bolteh, were adamant in resisting the regime. They also participated in last February’s demonstrations.

However, others such as novelist Rashid Bogdara and playwright Soliman Bin Issa preferred to support the regime.

They represented the country’s artists and intellectuals at the consultative sessions held by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to draw up reforms in various sectors, including culture.

The result of these sessions was a new law that regulates cinema, and imposes new restrictions on freedom of expression. As Mirzak Alwash once said, “The regime above all fears images.”

Alwash was subjected to wide criticism over his movie, Normal, described by various local media sources as a distortion of the lives of Algerian youth during its screening in the Wahran Festival.

Only one Algerian feature film was produced in 2011, Qaddeish Tohebni (How Much Do You Love Me) by Fatema al-Zahraa Zamoum.

Debates about censorship resurfaced after the controversy created by the publication of Mohamed Bin Shiko’s novel, Kizbat Allah (God’s Lie), which was deemed to be a historical fabrication.

Banning the movie al-Seen Mazalat Ba’eeda (China Remains Faraway), by Malek Bin Ismail, only confirmed the prevalent mentality at the Ministry of Culture.

The Ministry has become the official sponsor of all activities in the country, mobilizing the country’s intellectuals in the service of the regime’s propaganda. This is clearly reflected in the position of the Union of Algerian Writers, which has effectively become the ministry’s puppet.

But as Algeria’s freedom of expression was curbed, last year also witnessed the loss of poet and journalist Hamid Skif who spent his last days in exile, escaping harassment from Islamic groups in the 1990s.

As for the annual book fair, the main focus of discussion was the Arab Spring, but it certainly downplayed its impact and significance. Discussions dealt with the Arab revolutions as mere theoretical instances that are disconnected from reality.

But a festive mood dominated the “Tlemcen: Capital of Islamic Culture 2011” festival.

The year 2012 will mark the monumental event of 50 years of independence. Organizers have promised to fund film projects, literary publications, and theatrical works in an attempt to reclaim the “stolen” glories of the Algerian revolution, as one academic remarked.

Still, many hope that the fiftieth anniversary will not only celebrate past glories, but also the downfall of the existing dictatorship.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Culture Recap of 2011

Articles: Algeria | Egypt | Iraq | Jordan | Lebanon | Morocco | Palestine | Syria | Tunisia

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