Morocco and Algeria in dispute over Rai

The Algerian country accuses the Alawi country of wanting to steal the origin of this popular musical genre that is found in several North African countries

PHOTO/PIXABAY  -   PHOTO/PIXABAY – Música del Magreb

Morocco and Algeria are once again in a quarrel over the heritage shared by the two neighbouring countries. Now, Algeria has accused the Kingdom of wanting to appropriate the Rai, one of the most popular musical genres in the area and in North Africa. The Algerians point the finger at the Moroccans for wanting to take away one of the nation's bids to join the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) list of Intangible World Heritage countries.
The two neighbours have each presented their reasons for claiming this property. On the Algerian side, Minister of Culture Wafaa Chaalalle confirmed to the daily Al-Hiwar that the files to endow this music as heritage are being categorised in Al-Rai and Al-Madhat. She added that the decision to submit the nomination to UNESCO had already been taken to classify the genre as "Algerian popular song". The Algerian daily, El-Watan, defended the issue by opening the paper with trumpeter-musician Messouad Bellemou, considered in the nation as "the father of modern Rai".

On the Moroccan side, in defence of the origins of Rai, the organisers of the Oujda International Rai Festival have shown their interest in having the genre classified as Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, in order to make it a Moroccan product. The newspaper Le360 took a position on the issue, recalling that it is a Moroccan genre, precisely from the east of the territory, and that it was already being played in the region before the creation of Algeria as a country. 


In the midst of this battle, an Algerian actor named Nasreddine Touil, a member of the Association of Art-Culture and the Protection of the Musical Heritage of Oranais (ACPPMO), made famous statements. The well-known actor defended his place of origin in this dispute. "Rai cannot be Moroccan. The whole world knows that Rai is Algerian," he said. 

The enmity between Morocco and Algeria is natural between the two regions. The countries are embroiled in issues such as this and the provenance of a common good in the area is not the first dispute they have had. 

Another dispute between the two nations is over the origin of couscous. This dish, made from wheat semolina and cooked mainly with steam and olive oil, which is typical of North Africa and is present in the meals of the different areas of the Maghreb, is another bone of contention between the Kingdom and Algeria.

Since 2020, this food has been part of UNESCO's Intangible Heritage, in a document presented jointly by Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia. Algeria first announced its candidacy in 2016, arguing that there were already remains of this food 4,200 years ago in the region of Kabylie. The news made the Moroccan people explode, so the nation submitted its proposal as well. The world organisation managed to calm the situation and in the end the two countries produced the document jointly.
"It is a strong sign of cultural recognition and it is also a real diplomatic success, on such an important and symbolic issue for the people of this whole region, and far beyond. This consensus shows that cultural heritage can be both personal and exceptional, and transcend borders," said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, after the recognition of couscous as the heritage of all these peoples of Africa. 

Now the Alawite kingdom has reopened the debate over its provenance, opening a new front with Algeria to continue their feud. Mehdi Bensaid, Moroccan Minister of Culture, declared in various Moroccan media that his main idea is to label this ancestral dish as a Moroccan trademark. In an attempt to achieve this feat, the minister's intention is to talk to the high authorities of UNESCO to get them to recognise that the origin of couscous is in Morocco.