People Power in the Maghreb - Celebrating the Culture of the Maghreb and the Possible Awakening of Democracy

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 15, 2011 01:00pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Maghreb

The term Maghreb comes from Arabic المغرب العربي (meaning "place of sunset") and, as a foreign term is disliked by some of the region's indigenous Berbers, many who prefer "Tamazgha." However, as "Maghreb" is much more widely used internationally, I'm using it here, without meaning to offend. On the same note, many Berbers also don't like the term "Berber," as it comes from the Greek bárbaros or "barbarian." Many prefer a variant of "Imazighen" but no one term is agreed upon by the the Tuareg, Moors, and other Berber people so, similarly, I'll use "Berber" in this entry for the sake of familiarity.


In the Maghreb, press freedom is almost nonexistent. Mauritania, which enjoys the highest Press Freedom rating, comes in at 95 out of 178 according to Reporters sans frontières. State-sanctioned coverage of political unrest in the region is usually restricted to demonstrations against Israeli apartheid or the occupation's supporters. But recently, a wave of protests against Maghrebi's own corrupt governments threatens to bring progressive political change to the region, one of the least democratic on Earth. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Mauritania is also the most democratic state in the region, scoring 3.86 on a scale of 1 to 10 (115th out of 167 countries). By comparison, the United States scores 8.18 and ranks 17th. 

 Almohad Empire


The Maghreb enjoyed some political unity under the the rule of the Berber kingdom of Numidia (202 BCE – 46 BCE). In the early 8th century, during the Arab Conquest, there was again some unity, although Arab control was quite weak and the so-called Arab Invasion was primarily a spread of the Islamic religion, and Arabic language and culture... and an absorption into Berber populations. However, the longest unification of the region was under the Berber empires of Almoravids and Almohads between 1040 CE and 1269 CE. Modern Maghrebis are largely genetically composed of Berber, Arab, European and Sub-Saharan elements. Historically the Maghreb was also home to significant Jewish communities and Turks. The idea for an economic union of the Maghreb began again following the independence of Tunisia and Morocco in 1956. It was not until 1989, however, that five Maghreb states met for the first Maghreb summit.

Unrest in the Maghreb tends to get less coverage in Western media than, say, Iran did, following the 2009 electoral crisis -- could be because most of the West has much closer ties to some of the Maghreb's dictators than to their Iranian counterparts. Nonetheless, there's been a heartening amount of genuine civil unrest that, one can hope, will loosen the autocratic stranglehold the governments have over their people. Tunisia's dictatorial president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country yesterday, ending 23 years of rule. This came after Tunisians took to the streets to protest poor living conditions and corruption in a dramatic wave of social and political unrest; Hamma Hammami, the leader of the banned Tunisian Workers' Communist Party was arrested on January 12th. At last count, 68 Tunisians have died in the struggle.

The unrest has echoed in neighboring Algeria, where 53 people have been injured and 29 others arrested during protests over inadequate housing and other grievances. Citizens of Libya (where Muammar al-Gaddafi has ruled since 1969), Morocco (a monarchy ruled by King Mohammed VI), occupied Sahwari, and Mauritania (where General Mohamed Ould Abdel Azi seized power in 2005) are assuredly watching and hopefully emboldened... even in the Arabic world, Jordanians have begun speaking out against oppression and explicitly thanking Tunisians for their empowering example.


One of my favorite aspects of the world's varied cultures is food and all the ways people find to make delicious stuff. The Maghreb is recognized globally for its culinary traditions. Who hasn't had couscous, the Maghreb's staple alternative to rice? Libya has thick, seasoned soup known as Sharba Libiya, as well as batata mubatana (filled potatoes) and bazeen, a starchy dish typically served with a tomato sauce, eggs, potatoes and mutton. Tunisia is known for tagine, which is spicier than most other tagines. Tunisia also has brik (a fried malsouka dough stuffed with tuna and an egg), marqua (stews), rishta (pastas), samsa (a specific pastry), kifta (ground meat), kaak (pastries), gnawiya (gombos), mergue (lamb sausage) and shakshouka (ratatouille). Algerian cuisine has distinct regional differences that draw from Berber, Arabic and Turkish influences, although khabz (a traditional flatbread) is the base of Algerian cuisine. Other common dishes include chakchouka, karantita and pastillathat.


The music of the Maghreb varies from culture to culture and from event to event more than from country to country.

There's Tuareg folk music...


...Bedouin poet-singers, Arab Classical...

...moussiqua al-âla
(Andalusian Moorish music) in several countries.


Morocco is widely known for Gnawa music, a mixture of sub-Saharan African, Berber, and Arabic religious songs and rhythms.


Algeria is widely known for Raï.

Chaabi music is popular with festivals and special occasions.


Tunisia hosts the Tabarka Jazz Festival, Testour's Arab Andalusian Music Festival and the International Festival of theSahara in Douz.

                    Med Hondo                                          Nacer Khemir                                    Abderrahmane Sissako

The Maghreb isn't well-known internationally for its films. Criterion seemingly has a "no Africa" policy when it comes to releasing DVDs and Blu-Rays, even though they release them from every other continent (besides Antarctica). The most reliable source for North African films internationally was New Yorker Films. Sadly, they ceased operations in 2009 but cautiously restarted operations on March 8, 2010. Tunisian cinema, despite the authoritarian nature of the government, is one of the most vibrant cinemas in the Arabic-speaking world and Carthage alternately hosts the FESPACO film festival with Burkina Faso. Although Senegal's Ousmane Sembene is widely known as the Father of African Cinema, Med Hondo of Mauritania is responsible for directing the first feature length Black African Film, 1967's O Soleil. Based on the posters of Tunisia's Nacer Khemir's films, I'm very interested and Mauritania's Abderrahmane Sissako is one of the greatest filmmakers working today.

Films made in the Maghreb include À l'ombre des chênes (1974), A Summer In La Goulette (1996), Adhilai al beida (1991), Aicha (1960), al-Asfour (1972), al-Risâla (1976), Algérie - entre douleur et liberté (2000), Ali au pays des mirages (1978),

Ali Zaoua - prince de la rue
(2000), Aliénations (2004), Al Tariq (1975), Arab (1988), Asfour Stah (1990), Automne... Octobre à Alger (1993), Avril (1998), Awdat al ibn al dal (1976), Aziza (1980), Aïd El Kebir (1999), Baath Omah (1965),

(2005), Bab El-Oued City (1994), Bab el makam (2005), Bab el web (2005),

(2006), Bedwin Hacker (2003), Bent familia (1997), Beur blanc rouge (2006), Beyroutou el lika (1981), Bezness (1992), Biribi (1971), Brancaleone alle crociate (1970), Buamama (1985), Camp de Thiaroye (1987), Caméra arabe (1987), Caméra d'Afrique (1983), Champagne amer (1986), Cheb (1991), Children of the Sun (1962), Chronique des années de braise (1975), Citizen Brando (2007), Clan destin (1999), Clubbing to Death (2007), Couleurs d'enfants (1994), Couplouètes (1998), Cousines (2004), Dangerous Animal (2005), Daughter of Keltoum (2001), Deadlines (2004), Delice Paloma (2007), Dhil al ardh (1982), Die Rückkehr aus der Wüste (1990), Douar de femmes (2005), Dounia (1998), Décembre (1972),

Écrans de sable (1991), El Faham (1973), El Ghoula (1972), El Hadhra (1989), El Haimoune (1986), El Kalaa (1988), El Kotbia (2002), El Manara (2004), Élise ou la vraie vie (1970), En face (2000), Equinoccio - el jardín de las rosas (1991), Essaïda (1996), Et demain... (1972), Et Salammbo? (1970), Faisons ensemble la patrie mauritanienne (1976), Fatma (2002), Faut s'les faire!... Ces légionnaires (1981), Fellagas (1971), Femmes d'Alger (1992), Festival panafricain d'Alger (1970), Frontières (2001),Gallos de pelea (1969), Ghodoua Nahrek (1998), Goha (1958), Guerre de libération (1973), Génération de guerre (1971), H'Biba M'Sika (1994),

(1995), Halou u mer (2000), Harb El Khalij... wa baad (1993), Haçla (2003),

(2002), Histoire d'une rencontre (1985), Honneur de la tribu, hors la loi (2009), Ilo Tsy Very (1987), Il était une fois dans l'oued (2005), Inch'Allah dimanche (2001), Indigènes (2006), Inland gabbla (2009), Invincibili tre - Gli (1964), Iskanderija... lih? (1978), Jean Farès (2001), Jowjet libni (1982), Keswa - le fil perdu (1997), Keïd Ensa (1999), Kharif 82 (1991), Khochkhach (2006), Khorma - enfant du cimetière (2002), L'Après-Octobre (1989), L'Arc-en-ciel éclaté (1998), L'Arche du désert (1998), L'Asino d'oro - processo per fatti strani contro Lucius Apuleius cittadino romano (1970), L'Attente des femmes (2001), L'Autre monde (2001), L'Héritage (1975), L'Inchiesta (1986), L'Opium et le baton (1971), L'Évasion de Hassan Terro (1974), La Boîte magique (2002), La Colline oubliée (1997), La Danse du vent (2003), La Dernière image (1986), La Dévoilée femme (1998),

La Fille de Keltoum
(2001), La Fille de Keltoum  (2001), La Montagne de Baya (1997), La Mort trouble (1970), La Nouba (1979), La Saison des hommes (2000), Las Joyas del diablo (1969), La Vie sur terre (1998), La Voisine (2002), Le Bal (1983), Le Blouson vert (1998), Le Casseur de pierres (1989), Le Chant de la Noria (2002), Le Chant du millénaire (2002), Le Collier perdu de la colombe (1991), Le fil perdu (1997), Le Fils d'Amr est mort  (1975), Le Fils d'Amr est mort (1975), Le Grand carnaval (1983), Le Harem de madame Osmane (1993), Le Magique (1996), Le Mort trouble (1970), Le Nombril du monde (1993), Le Prince (2004), Les Ambassadeurs (1975), Les Anges (1984), Les Aveux les plus doux (1971), Les Bicots-negres vos voisins (1974), Les Bonnes familles (1972), Les Chemins de l'oued (2002), Les Folles années du twist (1986), Les Hirondelles ne meurent pas à Jerusalem (1994), Les Nomades (1975), Le Soleil assassiné (2003), Les Siestes Grenadine (1999), Les Suspects (2004), Le Sultan de la Médina (1992), Les Vacances de l'inspecteur Tahar (1972), Le Thé d'Ania (2004), Leïla et les autres (1977), Little Senegal (2001), Lorsque le destin s'acharne (1972), Louss - warda al-rimal (1988),

Machano (1996), Making of, le dernier film (2006), Maquam Echahid (1984), Marock (2005), Mendiants et orgueilleux (1971), Message d'Alger (1998), Miel et cendres (1996), Mille mois (2003), Moissons d'acier (1983), Mokhtar (1968), Morituri (2007), Mughamarat batal (1979), Nadia et Sarra (2004), Nahla (1979), Nationalité immigré (1975), Noua (1972), Nous aurons toute la mort pour dormir (1977), Oktyabr (1993), Omar Gatlato (1976), One Evening in July (2001), Patrouille à l'Est (1971), Po di Sangui (1996), Poupées d'argile (2002), Poussière de diamant (1992), Poussières de vie (1995), Premier Noël (1999), Premier pas (1979), Prends 10000 balles et casse-toi (1981), Pustinjska ladja (1976), Père (2004), R.A.S. (1973),

(2002), Raja (2005), Redeyef 54 (1997), Rih essed (1986), Rodriguez au pays des merguez (1980), Roma wa la n'touma (2006), Rostov-Luanda (1998), Rupture (1982), Safa'ih min dhahab (1989), Safrana ou le droit à la parole (1978), Sahel la faim pourquoi (1975), Salut cousin! (1996), Sama (1988), Samt el qusur (1994), Sanaoud (1972), Sarraounia (1986), Sarâb (1982), Satin rouge (2002), Seekers of Oblivion (2004), Seuils interdits (1972), Signe d'appartenance (2004), Soleil des hyènes (1976), Soleil O (1967), Song of Umm Dalaila - the Story of the Sahrawis (1993), Tahia ya didou! (1971), Tant qu'il y aura de la pelloche (1998), The Bride Market of Imilchil (1988), The Silences of Palace (1994), Traversées (1984), Une femme taxi à Sidi Bel-Abbès (2000), Une si simple histoire (1970), Un homme qui dort (1974), Un rêve algérien (2003), Un été à La Goulette (1996), Velikij turan (1995), Vent de sable (1982), VHS - Kahloucha (2006),

Viva Laldjérie
(2004), Viva la muerte (1971), Vivre au paradis (1998), Walo Fendo (1999), Watani - un monde sans mal (1998), West Indies (1979), Ya nabil (1993), Ya ouled (1993), Yelema (1993), Youcef (1994), Yusra (1971), Zerda ou les chants de l'oubli (1983) and Zone interdite (1974). 

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