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The New Arab Staff

Morocco receives UNESCO heritage registration for couscous

Couscous was submitted in a joint application by Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania. [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 February, 2021

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Couscous has been awarded the status of intangible cultural heritage.
Morocco has been awarded with a certificate from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognising couscous on the United Nations' list of the world's intangible cultural heritage list.

Morocco's ambassador to UNESCO was presented with the certificate on Wednesday.

With couscous being officially placed on the intangible cultural heritage list, the north African dish has been recognised as part of a cultural heritage.

"Couscous is a dish replete with symbols, meanings and social and cultural dimensions all linked to solidarity, conviviality, sharing meals and togetherness," UNESCO said in their listing.

A petition to submit couscous was sent to UNESCO in March 2019, by Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania, and represented a cooperation between the countries that is not normally seen, particularly between Morocco and Algeria. 

"Couscous, present at every social or cultural event, is at once ordinary and special. Ordinary because of the frequency of its use in a family setting, and special because of the unifying and propitiatory role it plays at convivial community occasions at which food is shared," the petition read. 

Couscous is believed to have originated with the Berbers of Algeria and Morocco between the 11th century and 13th century, although some historians have speculated that its origins date back several millennia earlier. 

Prior to their collaboration, the crushed durum wheat semolina dish caused a diplomatic incident between Algeria and Morocco, when Algeria’s former prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahi, accused Morocco of "taking credit for this Maghrebi dish".

Read more: 'Israeli' hummus is theft, not appropriation

"It is unnecessary to say that couscous is a dish shared by all the Maghreb countries," he said.

Others, such as Algerian chef Rabah Ourrad, have pushed back against such food-based nationalism, saying that while each country has its own style, "We are all the same people, and the couscous is Maghrebi, the couscous is ours." 

Couscous joins other Moroccan practices on the cultural heritage list, including date palm, falconry, and the Mediterranean diet.

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