Algerian culture minister says Arabs face ‘existential challenges’

“We want to create the conditions that make the civil society more capable of blowing new life into the Algerian cultural scene.” - Algerian Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi

Sunday 04/11/2018
Towards meeting challenges. Algerian Minister of Culture  Azzedine Mihoubi.    (Twitter)
Towards meeting challenges. Algerian Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi. (Twitter)

CAIRO - Algerian Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi said the digital revolution and the emergence of social media as a main communication tool have empowered radicals and extremists, especially in the Arab region.

Terrorists, he said, are now more capable of communicating with people to argue against what is acceptable or logical and to recruit people.

“This makes the mission of governments and cultural institutions more challenging,” Mihoubi said. “They have to fight an enemy super-empowered with an unfettered access to an endless supply of recruits.”

Mihoubi has been at the top of Algeria’s cultural establishment since 2015. He started his professional career as a journalist before moving to lead the information section at Algerian state television. He became chief executive of Algerian Radio before being appointed to lead the National Library of Algeria in 2010. Mihoubi also has ten poetry collections to his name, as well as four novels.

He moved into to his role at a time of great change and major perils.

Algeria, which faced a bloody civil war in the 1990s, has withstood the “Arab spring” revolutions that shook Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Nevertheless, Algeria faces the threat of violent extremism and its consequences of fear and bloodshed. It remains concerned about the rise of extremism and terrorism in the region.

Mihoubi was in Cairo in October for the Arab Culture Ministers’ Conference, a biennial gathering of top cultural decision makers in the Arab world. The conference focused on issues such as the role of culture in the fight against extremism.

“Extremists are winning many of the battles throughout the region, killing the innocent, tarnishing the image of Islam and convincing sympathisers that their actions are heroic,” Mihoubi said. “True, these terrorists can use the power of technology and communications revolution but we have a much more powerful weapon, namely culture.”

Mihoubi called for meeting of Arab leaders to discuss cultural actions that Arab governments could to take to rescue Arabs as a nation from the dangers extremism and terrorism pose to them, their culture and their faith.

“Cultural institutions cannot be effective in the absence of support at the highest level in any state,” Mihoubi said.

He said he has endeavoured at the Ministry of Culture to simplify tasks by outsourcing cultural responsibilities. He said he wants to turn culture from a preserve of the government into a shared responsibility with the wider society in general and civil society, in particular.

“We want to create the conditions that make civil society more capable of breathing new life into the Algerian cultural scene,” Mihoubi said. “We also want culture to turn from a mere practice done for its own sake into a social and economic development tool.”

Mihoubi said he is aware that he belongs to a country with rich cultural traditions. He said he and his colleagues at the Ministry of Culture spread the word about those traditions wherever they go.

He said Algerians achieved much in all fields of culture: cinema, theatre and the arts.

“It is our responsibility to throw light on this cultural progress,” Mihoubi said. “Cultural exchange is very important if we will learn from each other and use culture as a tool for progress.”

Deep under these actions, the Algerian minister said, is his belief that this is a sensitive time for the Arab world, Arab culture and Arabic as a language.

He said developments in the region, the wars in many Arab countries and the re-emergence of violence as a conversation language between peoples and groups show the dangers and challenges the Arabs are facing.

These challenges, he said, must be met with radical action and solutions. One of the solutions, he added, was to make religious discourse and school curricula go hand in hand with changes Arabs are seeing in their countries.

“As a nation, we face existential challenges,” Mihoubi said. “This means that we need to more than just do business as usual to be up to these challenges.”