Couscous entered the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO last December. An operation which, for the first time, brought together four Maghreb countries.
Last December, the traditions of couscous were inscribed on the list of intangible cultural heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The inclusion of couscous on this list is the result of an unprecedented joint request: Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia have all worked for this recognition. “This joint registration is a great success. It is a strong sign of cultural recognition and it is also a real diplomatic success, on a subject so important and so symbolic for the peoples of this whole region, and well beyond ”, according to Audrey Azoulay, the managing director of UNESCO. Online sales site in Tunisia
Diplomatic? Ghazi Gherairi, Tunisian Ambassador to Unesco, tempers Audrey Azoulay's assertion. "The temptation is easy to use this kind of expression, he explained when filing the file in early 2019. But in any case, it is proof that the cultural elements (here culinary but tomorrow, musical or others) can transcend tensions or differences and show that the elements that bring us together are stronger than those that divide us ”. For the Tunisian diplomat, “if couscous can be a diplomatic vehicle, why not! "
Algeria in the maneuver, Morocco in reinforcement
Because getting even Morocco and Algeria to agree was probably not easy. UNESCO tries to encourage multinational registrations, with the aim of “bringing peoples and cultures together”. And couscous was able to play this unifying role, despite the differences over its recipe and its origin. "Couscous is an element that brings North Africans together", summarizes Ghazi Gherairi, who admits that this does not change the fact that each country has "its specificities" in terms of cooking.
How can a simple dish be so controversial? In September 2016, Algeria announced that it wanted to submit a dossier on couscous to UNESCO. Morocco had little taste of this idea. An agreement had finally been found between the two countries, Tunisia and Mauritania having joined the movement to show the image of a "unified Maghreb".
Couscous is not Western Sahara
Despite everything, this inscription in the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO will not resolve the differences between these countries. Examples at the official ceremony in December. Malika Bendouda, Algerian Minister of Culture, wanted to recall that Algeria was "among the precursors of the genesis of this dish", while others assures that the best couscous is Tunisian, especially that with fish.
It remains to be seen whether, despite the differences, the Maghreb countries will succeed in joining together to defend their traditions. This file is the first common between these four Maghreb countries. For the Algerian chef Rabah Ourrad, “couscous is Maghrebian, couscous belongs to us”. A first step towards peaceful relations in the Maghreb. But couscous is still far from making people forget the tensions that reign in the Western Sahara issue. Faced with diplomatic tensions between Algeria and Morocco on this issue, especially since the announcement of the White House to recognize the sovereignty of the kingdom of the Sharif over this region, a couscoussière does not make the weight. But the file sent to UNESCO shows that, sometimes, the Maghreb countries can come together around a common cause. It's already that.