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What do we need to know about the MENA region today?

Nadira Laggoune
1 June 2011

One needs to be careful with the concept of regions as geographical entities. Such an understanding is only valuable if it takes into account the way these regions relate to their neighbours, as frontiers are still too often frontiers of misunderstanding.


The Middle East, like North Africa or the so-called 'Arab World', is a crucible for Mediterranean, Eastern and African influences. It's a place of crossroads where Arab, Berber and Islamic heritages mingle and interact through various migratory movements. Yet these territories - where so many nations, languages and writings are favourable to exchanges – do not constitute a single block. Problems vary from one country to the next, from one culture to the next, depending on the specifics of their histories and civilizations.


Cultures in the Islamic world are not only Muslim cultures; there are also Christian, Jewish, Berber, African, ancient and pre-historical cultures, all linked to cultures elsewhere in the world.


Thus one shouldn't consider Islam as a specificity, but focus instead on these other dimensions: Mediterranean, African, European, and on everyday activities sometimes unchanged for thousands of years.


When approaching an understanding of these regions through their traditions, Europe must take into consideration the fact that these are in constant evolution due to the globalization that mixes men, religions, languages and ideas. Traditions must not be considered in terms of nationalisms but in terms of belonging.


It is also important to pay attention to the new generations of artists who, for years, have been building a new culture: a cross-fertilisation of the East and the West that is the best protection against tensions related to identity. One has to know that identities are to do with being, but also with becoming. Today, those artists live in Algiers, in Cairo or in Beirut as well as in Paris, London or New York.

They belong to countries that have overcome post-colonialism through a double source of knowledge, both Eastern and Western and the contributions of European, African and American artists. The Middle East and North Africa represent an enormous movement of contemporary artistic creation, where hundreds of cultural events enrich the life of local and European art centres.

Nadira Laggoune

is an art critic and art historian based in Algiers.

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