Theatre and freedom of expression in the Arab-speaking world

Freedom of Artistic Expression and Cultural Policy Cultural Diversity FIA News

At the end of 2016, FIA was invited to attend the opening of the 9th International Arabic Theatre Festival, held in Oran, Algeria, from January 10 to 19, 2017. Under the patronage of the Arab Theatre Institute, this annual event brings together professional productions and theatre specialists from over 15 countries in North Africa and the Middle East. A total of eight original Arabic-language productions were competing for a prestigious award, alongside eight more, non-competing, shows.

We met with a vibrant community of hundreds of women and men from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Qatar, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan – among others – all sharing the same genuine passion for live performance, a determination to preserve its ability to elevate and educate the mind. These directors, actors, dancers, writers and technicians are nurturing this creative environment with very contemporary ideas, daring to confront prohibitions and stereotypes and suggest a world where everyone may live free of discrimination, hatred and ignorance. Many of these inspiring professionals have risked their lives more than once to preserve freedom of expression in their own country, defying brutal regimes and religious intolerance. Sadly, some of them still do.

We were deeply moved by the countless stories, anecdotes and testimonies brought to us by this enlightened resistance, for whom theatrical expression still is a militant act of the free spirit. The festival itself was dedicated to the memory of Azzedine Medjoubi, an Algerian actor and theatre director brutally murdered in 1995 by religious extremists.

At a time when the world seems to be yielding to fear and dogmatism, it really was a privilege to witness how theatre in the Arab world continues to be a beacon of hope. FIA has undertaken to cooperate more regularly with the Arab Theatre Institute in the future and help raise awareness among Arabic-language performers about their social, economic and moral rights, the importance of trade union representation to enhance their livelihood and promote their professional interests and the true meaning of global solidarity.

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