Algeria under Siege

Just when Algerians were about to leave their ten-year-old bloody civil conflict well behind, a new problem has arisen: ethnic Berber riots. The timing of such riots has been so perfect that one is tempted to conclude that there is little about culture and democracy and much more about political opportunism and foreign conspiracy.

Contrary to common belief, the Berber riots in Algeria are not the product of recent months. They actually date back to 1980 as a fraction of the Berber population (mainly students) decided to celebrate the end of the Boumedienist rule with rioting, presumably because Houari Boumedienne (Algeria’s most celebrated president) did little for the Berberist cause. Interesting enough, Algerians did not hear about any further riots till recently. More precisely, it was not until 1990 that the Berberists decided to ‘peacefully?’ riot again. Since then rioting has become a popular sport among the youth in Kabylia, thanks to high unemployment rates and low living standards that the young Kabyles have absolutely nothing to lose from rioting (with perhaps much to gain from looting shops and the joy of chanting slogans hand in hand!).

Ethnic divisions between Berbers, Mzabs, Chaouis, Tuaregs and Arabs in Algeria started with the silly suggestion that the Kabyle politicians should be running the country because they were born to be democrats. But this, of course, is more than just a mere suggestion. In fact, as I have shown in my ‘Is There a French Factor in Algeria’s Ethnic Violence?’, this has been a very carefully planned propaganda that started with the 1830 French mission to civilize Algeria. The French told the Berbers that they were different from the Muslims for at least, although they had accepted the Koran to be the word of God, they have never embraced it.

This game, silly as it is, is turning into a real disaster. Even worse, it is attracting world attention. Indeed, it is impossible to look at the front page of any major international newspaper or magazine nowadays and not to find something like ‘Berbers say uprising won’t stop till Algerian regime falls’ or ‘the original inhabitants of North Africa threaten Algeria with total war’.

The problem here is that, such titles themselves are an invitation to more violent rioting, so it is true that the Berbers might threaten Algeria with total war. It is also common to read in those newspapers and magazines the suggestion that ‘Berbers march peacefully to commemorate an icon’, giving a false idea of the fact that even if you were initially ‘marching peacefully’ you could eventually end up in a bloody battle. It is OK to imply that a brutal regime is dealing with peaceful demonstrators, but it is an intellectual dishonesty to close an eye on the economic damage that such riots have caused.

I have recently surveyed a huge number of magazines and newspapers from the internet and, not surprisingly, I could not find even one single article or report that points out to the fact that riots can paralyze economic life completely, so it is inherently not a good idea to march in the middle of a civil war even if you happen to do so extremely peacefully.

While most international reports about Algeria come from people sitting comfortably behind their computers é so they have never set a foot in the country é one should not underestimate such a copy-and-paste exercise. This sudden love of the international community for the ‘oppressed Berber population’ should not go uninvestigated. This is particularly the case because there are many people out there whose aim is to spread rumors for that they enjoy setting other countries on fire.

For example, there are the missionaries who could climax from their religious joy only when others are in trouble. Similarly, there are the non-missionaries who are just sad because their brain is stuck in the old days of the Muslim-Christian crusades, so a bloody repetition of such events is, for them, highly entertaining.

More importantly, there are the Berberist leaders themselves who are just looking for an opportunity to get elected. Take Dr Said Saadi, for example, who is well known for his political opportunism. He has recently been campaigning for a holy war on behalf of the population so that to gather support for his RCD political party which has managed so far to get no more than 3 per cent in any election. He is hoping that the riots will spread to everywhere in the country; he could then rule Algeria because he would be the only politician left.

Luckily, his efforts are acquiring very little success. This is because the population is well aware of his ill intentions. People are saying that if his real aim is to impose his Berberist agenda on the non-Berber population, why should this vast non-Berber population not impose its own agenda on the Berbers?.

Therefore, Algeria’s non-Berber population is unlikely to follow him because there are gaps in perceptions. Dr Saadi has regionalist ideas and he is not thinking about the future of the country as a whole. In fact, he is not even thinking about the future of the Berber population because, if he was, then how would one explain his encouragement of the Berber population to plan for more riots while he should know that riots have serious economic outcomes so that the Berber population itself will eventually suffer even more!?.

On top of that, the non-Berber population (and even the Mzabs, Chaouis and Tuaregs) is now thinking that the riots may have been planned from abroad. There are reasons for this. On the one hand, there have recently been hundreds of websites and so-called political organizations, which are strictly administered by non-Algerians, mushrooming on the internet. Although it is clear that these so-called political activists are seeking cash, one should not underestimate the impact of their propaganda. While such websites provide no valuable information to the common Algerian, they serve as a meeting place for the riot squad to set a time and date for when and where to strike next. In this case, such websites are similar to ordinary terrorist organizations in many ways.

On the other, Mr Hocine Ait Ahmed, a communist and a fierce competitor to Dr Saadi, has recently been self-exiled in Switzerland and he is said to have become the championed guru for the rioters. He is likely to have collected money from the Berberist diaspora in France and the US and what is left will certainly be sent to Algeria as a payment for recruits. These ‘rumors’ are spreading over the internet, which shows that the population is well aware of who might be behind the riots.

Even more seriously, there are the recent declarations in Paris on behalf of Mr Salem Chaker, a Berberist figure with a huge number of followers, which advocate separatism. Although Mr Chaker later modified his stance as saying that he meant cultural autonomy, the population knows well from the history of his preaching that he is striving for an independent Kabylia. Historical evidence from past ethnic movements in general also shows that autonomy means separatism which, in turn, is falsely equated with democracy.

On the whole, Algeria’s situation today resembles that of Indonesia in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis. When thousands of Indonesians were burning the whole of Jakarta, prestigious international magazines and TV stations were claiming that, ‘the largest Muslim country in the world was marching towards a better future é that of democracy’.

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