They feel discriminated against, socially disadvantaged, politically marginalised and fear the loss of their land due to a steady increase in new settlers. The "they" in question here are not the Palestinians in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, but the Mozabite people in Algeria. They are at the centre of a conflict that has been brewing for decades and finally transitioned into open violence at the end of last year. No one can say for certain whether the dispute's root causes are ethnic, religious or social.
Ghardaia is the capital of Ghardaia Province in the M'zab Valley, which lies 600 kilometres south of Algiers, the capital of the country. The region is the gateway to the Sahara and, currently, a stage for heavy unrest. Homes and businesses have been plundered or burned down, cemeteries and sacred sites defiled and centuries-old mausoleums destroyed. Armed clashes between generally young men from the Mozabite group on the one hand and the Chaamba tribe on the other are a regular occurrence. Such clashes sometimes even result in lynching.
The dispute is about land, living space, water, access to public offices, institutions and privileges as well as jobs and integration. A catastrophically high youth unemployment rate and a constantly deteriorating economic situation also contribute to the tension.
The Chaamba and the Mozabite
Mozabites are among the Algerian groups known as Berbers or Imazighen – both terms that are problematic and not viewed as suitable by all members of the ethnic groups in question. They belong to the Ibadi religious minority and, traditionally, lived and worked as merchants in the M'zab, where they also form the majority population.
The Chaamba, on the other hand, see themselves as Arabs and as followers of the Maliki approach to Islamic law. They used to be Bedouins who mainly made a living breeding camels until they were forced to give up their nomadic life first by colonialist policy and then by the Algerian policies of President Houari Boumediene following the country's independence in 1962. They too settled in the M'zab.
Both groups accuse one another of marginalisation. The Chaamba say the Mozabites have used exclusive social structures and their own schools, mosques and cemeteries to hamper the integration of the Chaamba, with whom they want no relations.
For their part, the Mozabites say the Chaamba marched in arrogantly and, as Arabs, get preferential treatment from the Algerian government in the form of easier access to administrative jobs or living space. The Mozabites also feel that the construction of more and more new villages and districts by the Arab newcomers is systematically displacing them and threatening their identity.
"Essentially, the Arab population confronts ethnic minorities with a sense of superiority," says Ulrich Delius, a specialist on African affairs with the Society for Threatened Peoples, speaking to Qantara.de. He goes on to say that this is a result of 50 years of Arabisation policies that have led Arab Algerians not to see their state as a multi-ethnic place with room for Berber communities, but solely as an Arab nation.
"There are no Berbers in the Arab Maghreb"
There is a tradition of nationalist Arabisation policies and the marginalisation of Berbers across the Maghreb. Since the mid-twentieth century and independence from the colonial powers, the states of the Maghreb have pursued this agenda with varying degrees of intensity. Above all, it can be seen as the reaction on the part of young nationalists to French colonialists' attempts to split the population with its divide et impera (divide and conquer) approach.
In Morocco in 1930, the colonialist administration issued the so-called "Dahir berbère" (Berber edict), which established different legal treatment for Berbers, thereby cementing ethnic divisions. Describing the Berbers as "late-converted Muslims," the differentiation was also intended to suggest that the French could bring them into the Christian fold more easily, whereas the Arabs were seen as a lost cause.
In Gaddafi's Libya, the existence of non-Arab peoples was simply denied as part of the concept of the Jamahiriya mass state. "We are all Libyans" was the former dictator's famous credo.
Algerians also largely disregarded the ethnic identities, cultures and languages of non-Arab communities and of the Kabyle people, in particular. "There are no Berbers in the Arab Maghreb … They have been completely arabised," wrote Algerian Fadil al-Wartilani, a militant anti-colonialist thinker who had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Throughout the region, Berber names were made to sound Arabic, which was made the sole official language. Berbers were denied their cultural and ethnic independence and spoken of as if they were just an element of folklore. Their languages were discounted as mere dialects. Protests against these attempts at homogenisation were treated as a betrayal of the Arab nation and sympathy for the former colonial powers.
In Algeria, winter follows spring
Various Berber communities have being resisting their oppression for quite some time now, and clashes occur with regularity. One example came in early 1980 when a peaceful protest in the Kabylie region was put down by a massive military operation. It went down in history as the "Berber Spring".
The so-called Black Spring of 2001 is also fresh in many people's minds. During it, security forces shot dead more than 100 members of the Kabyle minority.
The ongoing conflicts in Ghardaia mean that explosive social and political situations are likely to arise again in the future. Even now, it is apparent that the Algerian state's lack of action in response to unrest constitutes an additional threat to the country's dearly paid for stability.
© Qantara.de 2014
Translated from the German by Greg Wiser
Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de
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The trust deficit
Breaking the Middle East′s cycle of terror
The two-pronged strategy
Book review: Joseph Andras′ ″De nos freres blesses ″
A shameful chapter
Islamic debate about human rights
The erroneous 'cultural distinction'
The long road to recognition
Guide to Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Facts and Statistics
- Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Morocco and Tunisia
- Capital: Algiers
- Climate: Arid to semiarid; mild, wet winters with hot, dry summers along coast; drier with cold winters and hot summers on high plateau; sirocco is a hot, dust/sand-laden wind especially common in summer.
- Population: 38,813,722 (July 2014 est.)
- Ethnic make-up: Arab-Berber 99%, European less than 1% note: almost all Algerians are Berber in origin, not Arab; the minority who identify themselves as Berber live mostly in the mountainous region of Kabylie east of Algiers; the Berbers are also Muslim but identify with their Berber rather than Arab cultural heritage; Berbers have long agitated, sometimes violently, for autonomy; the government is unlikely to grant autonomy but has offered to begin sponsoring teaching Berber language in schools
- Religion: Sunni Muslim (state religion) 99%, Christian and Jewish 1%
Language in Algeria
According to the census of 1966, Arabic is the language of 81% of Algeria's population; in addition to this, non-native speakers learn Arabic at school. In Algeria, as elsewhere, spoken Arabic differs very substantially from written Arabic; Algerian Arabic has a much-simplified vowel system, a substantially changed vocabulary with many new words and many words from Berber, Turkish, and French, and, like all Arabic dialects, has dropped the case endings of the written language. Within Algerian Arabic itself, there are significant local variations; Jijel Arabic, in particular, is noteworthy for its pronunciation of qaf as kaf and its profusion of Berber loanwords, and certain ports' dialects show influence from Andalusi Arabic brought by refugees from al-Andalus. Algerian Arabic is part of the Maghreb Arabic dialect continuum, and fades into Moroccan Arabic and Tunisian Arabic along the respective borders.
In the Sahara, more conservative Bedouin dialects, grouped under the name Saharan Arabic, are spoken; in addition, the many Sahrawi refugees at Tindouf speak Hassaniya Arabic.
Most Jews of Algeria once spoke dialects of Arabic specific to their community, collectively termed "Judeo-Arabic"; however, most came to speak French in the colonial period even before emigrating to France after independence.
Algerian Culture and Society
- Islam is practised by the majority of Algerians and to a certain extent still governs their personal, political, economic and legal lives.
- Islam emanated from what is today Saudi Arabia. The Prophet Muhammad is seen as the last of God's emissaries (following in the footsteps of Jesus, Moses, Abraham, etc) to bring revelation to mankind. He was distinguished with bringing a message for the whole of mankind, rather than just to a certain peoples. As Moses brought the Torah and Jesus the Bible, Muhammad brought the last book, the Quran. The Quran and the actions of the Prophet (the Sunnah) are used as the basis for all guidance in the religion.
- Among certain obligations for Muslims are to pray five times a day - at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening. The exact time is listed in the local newspaper each day.
- Friday is the Muslim holy day. Everything is closed. Many companies also close on Thursday, making the weekend Thursday and Friday.
- During the holy month of Ramadan all Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk and are only permitted to work six hours per day. Fasting includes no eating, drinking, cigarette smoking, or gum chewing. Expatriates are not required to fast; however, they must not eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum in public.
- The family is the most important unit of the Algerian social system and defines social relations.
- The individual is always subordinate to the family or group.
- The family comes above all else and we see this manifest in nepotism and the importance of honour.
The Concept of Honour
- Honour is a foundation block of Algerian society.
- Honour is delicately intertwined with a family's good name their reputation.
- If someone is honourable, the family is honourable and if an individual is shamed the family is shamed.
- As a result the behaviour of individual family members is viewed as the direct responsibility of the family.
- Honour can be lost in many ways, for example Algerians believe that turning down a friend's request for a favour causes the other person to lose honour. Therefore, they will agree to do something rather than risk either party losing face.
- Things to watch out for are criticizing others, insulting them, or putting them in a position that will be uncomfortable. By dishonouring someone you also spoil the relationship.
Social Etiquette and Customs in Algeria
Meeting & Greeting
- Algerians greet each other with lengthy affairs.
- In addition to the handshake one is obliged to ask about family, work, the house, the weather, etc. o This is all part of cementing a relationship and showing concern for others.
- You may see people continue to hold hands after the initial handshake is a sign of warmth.
- Friends and family will also exchange kisses on the check.
- When meeting women initially nod and wait to see if a hand is extended.
- Avoid prolonged eye contact with women and do not ask personal questions.
- For women visiting Algeria note that religious men may not shake your hands - this is not a sign of disrespect but quite the opposite.
Names and Titles
- The use of titles in important in Algeria due to the hierarchical nature of the society.
- When introduced to someone, try to call them by their honorific, professional, or academic title and their surname.
- As most people speak French and Arabic titles may be in either.
- Common titles are "doctor", "professor", and "lawyer" in English or "docteur", "professeur", and "avocat" in French. Some religious scholars may be called "Sheikh"
Gift Giving Etiquette
Gift giving is a part of Algerian culture that is used to cement relationships. The gesture of giving is more important than the gift. In social settings some of these tips may come in handy:
- When invited to an Algerian's home, bring pastries, fruit, or flowers.
- Roses or tulips make good gifts.
- Violets as they symbolize sadness.
- Children will always appreciate sweets!
- Do not bring alcohol unless you are sure they partake.
- Gifts are not usually opened when received.
- Give gifts with the right or both hands.
Dining and Eating Etiquette
Algerians love both hospitality and food. If you are invited to home consider it an honour. Remember your host will more than likely be a Muslim so there are some initial facts to be aware of:
- Don't bring alcohol
- Remove shoes at the door
- Men and women will be seated separately
- Dress modestly (especially women)
Other tips include:
- When you enter a room with people always greet the eldest first. The move around the room from your right greeting people individually.
- It would be polite for a woman to offer to help the hostess with the preparation / clearing This will most likely be declined, but the offer will be appreciated.
Watch your Table Manners!
- There are several ways of dining such as sitting at low couches around a big table or on mats on the floor around a low table.
- Try and wash your hands before and after the meal.
- Food is usually eaten by hand.
- Couscous is eaten with a tablespoon while stew is eaten with a fork.
- If in doubt follow people sitting near you.
- Only use the right hand for eating and for passing dishes.
- You will be urged to take more food. Try and start off with small portions so you can take more from the main dish and appear to have eaten a greater quantity.
- Leave food on your plate or it will be filled up again.
Algerian Business Etiquette, Customs and Protocol
- The importance of personal relationships can not be underestimated. Always invest in building trust and rapport.
- You will notice that Algerians do not leave a great deal of personal space between each other. If someone stands close to you or holds your arm, do not back away.
- Preserving honour/reputation is important. Algerians will try to preserve their reputations telling people what they think they want to hear even if it is not the truth.
- It is important to bear this in mind when communicating with Algerians, i.e. do not cause them to lose face especially in public.
- Within Algeria the "you scratch my back and I scratch yours" mentality works. Try and do favours for people as this will mean they owe you one back.
- There is no formal ritual surrounding business cards.
- It may be a good idea to have them translated into French or Arabic.
- Always use the right hand to give and receive.
- Appointments are necessary and should be made as far in advance as possible and confirmed a day or two before the meeting.
- It is best to avoid scheduling meetings during Ramadhan.
- Remember Fridays are a Muslim holiday so most companies will be closed.
- Try to arrive at meetings on time and be prepared to wait. Algerian business people who are accustomed to dealing with international companies often strive to arrive on time, although it is often difficult for them to do so in such a relationship driven culture.
- In general, Algerians have an open-door policy, even during meetings. This means you may experience frequent interruptions. Others may even wander into the room and start a different discussion. You may join in, but do not try to bring the topic back to the original discussion until the new person leaves.
- French and Arabic are generally the language of business, although some companies use English.