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Algeria showcases Zellige exhibition, amid Adidas jersey row with Morocco

Algerian players are pictured during a friendly football match with Guinea in Oran [Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images]
Algerian players are pictured during a friendly football match with Guinea in Oran, [Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images]

Algeria is displaying an exhibition celebrating Zellige, a traditional style of mosaic tile work native to the Maghreb region, amid a row with neighbouring Morocco over a new jersey design by Adidas for Algeria's football team depicting a geometric Zellige pattern.

On Sunday, Algeria's International Exhibition of Real Estate, Building and Public Works (Batiwest) featured Zellige as part of "Algerian heritage" and included mosaic tile work identical to the one designed by Adidas for the national team's pre-match training kit.

Praising the exhibition, the Governor of Oran, Said Sayoud, claimed that this type of tile work had been existing in his country for hundreds of years. His remarks follows the controversy surrounding the football tops, which prompted Morocco's Ministry of Culture to protest by accusing Adidas of appropriating Moroccan culture.

The Ministry also announced the official patenting of Zellige of Fez by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. "The Zellige industry dates back to the tenth century AD, when it flourished during the Marinid era [in the 13th to 15th century] in the honourable Kingdom before moving to neighbouring tribes during the following centuries," Morocco's Ministry said.

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On 28 September, lawyer Mourad Elajouti in a statement posted on Facebook said he had issued a legal warning to Adidas on behalf of the Ministry. In a letter to the German sports brand's Chief Executive, Kasper Rorsted, Elajouti said the new design was cultural appropriation and "an attempt to steal a form of Moroccan cultural heritage and use it outside its context".

Elajouti demanded that the company either remove the collection within two weeks or issue a statement "to identify the Zellige art of Morocco as an inspiration" for the design. However, Adidas has insisted that the design was inspired by the tiling on Algeria's El Mechouar Palace in the north-west of the country, built in the 13th Century during the Zayyanid dynasty.

According to the BBC, the style was commonplace throughout the Maghreb region by the 14th Century, meaning Morocco and Algeria have a shared history dating back hundreds of years, before both countries and even the craft existed.

The row over the jersey design is the latest spat between the two countries since Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco last year "due to hostile actions" after the latter's decision to re-establish ties with Israel. Algiers also supports the Polisario Front, which seeks independence from Moroccan control over the disputed Western Sahara territory.

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