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Morocco lodges UNESCO complaint against Algeria over ‘appropriation’ of fassi caftan

May 21, 2024 at 2:50 pm

Locals and tourists visit the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square and the traditional bazaar surrounding the square, which looks like a fairground, in Marrakesh, Morocco on May 16, 2024 [Şebnem Coşkun – Anadolu Agency]

Morocco has filed an official complaint with UNESCO against Algeria, accusing its neighbour of appropriating the traditional Moroccan garment known as “Caftan Ntaa El Fassi”. According to Morocco World News, the kingdom’s Ministry of Youth, Culture and Communication, in collaboration with its permanent delegation to UNESCO, submitted the formal complaint.

Algeria apparently plans to include an image of the “Ntaa El Fassi” in a dossier it plans to present to the UNESCO committee responsible for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, the Moroccan ministry said in its complaint.

The kingdom alleges that the caftan depicted in the Algerian application was stolen from a museum in Amsterdam and is Moroccan property. The complaint calls for the image’s removal from the Algerian file and urges the UN body to prevent the exploitation of its 2003 Convention, which aims to protect and promote intangible cultural heritage, encompassing traditions, rituals, festive events and craftsmanship.

This move follows a series of disputes between the two North African countries over cultural heritage. Last year, Moroccan activists launched an online petition opposing Algeria’s attempt to claim the Caftan Ntaa El Fassi, originating from Fez, as part of its cultural heritage. The petition gathered tens of thousands of signatures, calling on Moroccans to “defend their heritage against repeated attempts of cultural appropriation.”

The issue is not isolated. In recent years, Morocco has repeatedly accused Algeria of appropriating various elements of its culture, including the caftan, the intricate mosaic tile work known as Zellige, certain types of traditional music, and culinary staples like couscous. These accusations also come amid intensified geopolitical tensions between Rabat and Algiers, namely over Morocco’s normalisation with Israel and Algeria’s support for the Polisario Front in relation to the disputed Western Sahara.

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