Video: Couples chased off Algerian beach for being ‘too intimate'

Screen grab of the video below.
Screen grab of the video below.

A video showing an Algerian man chasing young couples off a beach east of the country's capital has whipped up a social media frenzy. Although the man was subsequently arrested, our Observer says the footage reflects the overwhelmingly conservative nature of Algerian society.

The man, Rabah Guestal, lives in France but was on holiday at the Algerian seaside resort of Bordj El Kiffan when the footage was shot. He explains what he’s going to do at the start of the video: "We're going to hunt down those who are fornicating in our neighbourhood." Armed with a club and accompanied by four men, one of whom films the scene, he heads towards Sirène Beach. He yells: "Film this, I want evidence!"

He spots two lovers behind a rocky ridge and bellows: "Go on, get out from behind there!" He can be seen chasing several couples, then lecturing and threatening them. He asks a youth: "If I brought girls next to your house, what would you do?" An accomplice weighs in: "Go on, get out of here, you're lucky we didn't hit you."

Guestal also explains what motivates him to go about hunting down young couples, accusing the police of not doing their work. "Yes, it's a kind of jihad. [...] We must prevent vice. There's no longer any room for discussion. The only thing that works is the club."

The so-called "couples hunt" has been widely condemned on social media networks. The wave of criticism even pushed Guestal to apologise in a new video (see below). He tells viewers: "I'm neither the Islamic State group, nor a terrorist. If I hurt anybody, I ask them for forgiveness. It won't happen again."

According to the news site Algeria Focus, Guestal was arrested Sunday.

"'Couple hunting' is nothing new in Algeria"

Sofia Djama is an Algerian producer who also manages the feminist Facebook page 'My dignity has nothing to do with the length of my skirt'. The page has recently come back online after it was hacked and deleted.

Online, lots of people swiftly condemned the "couples hunter", but he also got lots of support. In Algeria there are open-minded people, but there are also many traditionalists. We still live in an overwhelmingly conservative society.

In the videos, the man - who makes himself out to be some kind of guardian of good morals - claims that the couples were engaging in sexual acts. But that's no reason to form a militia, which the law forbids in any case!

Moreover, even if they were in the middle of making love, you must bear in mind that there are very few places for young couples to spend time together in Algeria. That in itself is a problem. In the capital, there are coffee shops and tea rooms. But it gets more difficult in the small towns, where there are far fewer cafés. In some places, they even put up placards in public places that state "forbidden to couples", like in Yacouren forest [Editor's note: East of Algiers]. And in hotels, you have to show your family record book to prove you are married in order to rent a room. So young couples who want a bit of intimacy do what they can to get by.

"Police often ask my partner and I what kind of relationship we have!"

Even in Algiers, police officers regularly bother young couples. For example, when my partner and I are driving in our car and we get stopped at a police checkpoint, they always ask us: "What kind of relationship do you have with her?" But their one and only job is to take care of security – they’re not supposed to be the morality police!

So this "couples hunt" is nothing new in Algeria. People who wear swimsuits and people who don't fast have already been hunted down in similar fashion. But at a certain point, people can’t take it anymore. The fact that the authorities reacted to the video means they realised that there are certain boundaries that mustn't be crossed.