Screenshot of a video posted to YouTube by ahrar mzab.
Over the past week, young Arab have clashed with members of the Berber community known as Mozabites in several neighbourhoods in Ghardaïa, a city 600 kilometres south of Algiers. This conflict was stoked by videos posted online showing youths carrying out attacks as police forces look on without stepping in.
Clashes between members of both communities broke out on December 24 in the neighbourhoods of Souk and Hay El Mujahideen in downtown Ghardaïa before spreading to other areas the following day. About a dozen stores in the Theniet El-Makhzen neighbourhood and the city centre burned down as a result of the fighting. According to hospital sources, there were dozens of injuries.
The footage sent by our Observer speaks for itself. Groups of young men from the Arab community — a fact confirmed by different sources on the ground — can be seen throwing rocks at the group in front of them, while police forces shoot tear gas alongside them in the same direction (2’21”). “El Watan”, an Algerian newspaper, also relayed the stories of several residents who point out that only Mozabite stores were attacked.
Video posted on YouTube by ahrar mzab.
Although the catalyst for this new round of violence remains unclear, Ghardaïa and the region regularly experience tensions between the Arab and Mozabite communities. In 2008, riots led to two deaths and roughly 30 wounded in the town of Berriane, 40 kilometres from Ghardaïa.
Ghardaïa was originally a Mozabite city. Nomadic Arab groups progressively settled in the area several centuries ago.
“In school, we learn nothing about the cultural diversity of our country”
Abderrahmane Semmar, 25, is a journalist and co-administrator of the Algerian Special Envoys Facebook page. He lives in Algiers and is in contact with several people in Ghardaïa.
Policemen tend to be Arabs, because traditionally Mozabites do not work for the public sector but rather tend to be merchants. I imagine that the attitude of the policemen on the footage we see — which is probably only representative of a small fraction of those who were there — is motivated by Arab solidarity. Most are from the area and some are actually related to the Arab youths involved in the fighting. They also lack cultural awareness. In school, we don’t learn anything about the cultural diversity of our country. We graduate with only one mental framework. As a result, Algerians are not very tolerant.Clashes between communities are very common in Ghardaïa, partly due to the fact that unemployment is particularly high in the region. Arabs there mostly made their livelihoods from Saharan agriculture, which has in the past few years has greatly suffered from drought and illegal construction. For the younger generations that are gradually abandoning this sector, there are few employment opportunities, and this leads to a lot of frustration. Mozabites are used to living separately, and they have their own norms, networks, and social organisations. Nonetheless, the business world is not immune to the region’s economic crisis; communal solidarity is not enough. They are suffering as well.Photo posted on the Facebook page Envoyés Spéciaux Algériens (Algerian Special Envoys).Unemployment numbers may have risen dramatically, and so has population growth, in both communities. In Ghardaïa, urban construction is anarchic, and people are increasingly living crammed together. It’s too densely populated, and as a result people are on edge.
During an interview about a wave of riots in May 2013, professor Lagra Chegrouche explained that these tensions also have a religious element. Mozabites are mostly Ibadi Muslims, which is distinct from the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam. According to him, the rise of Salafism in the Arab populations since the start of the 1990s has contributed to the tension.
Local authorities could not be reached for comment.
Post written in collaboration with FRANCE 24 journalist Grégoire Remund (@gregoireremund).