Tuesday 1 February 2011

Diversity & Tolerence in Algeria

Growing up in Algeria for the most part, we have not observed a high rate of tolerance and diversity, Diversity as a subject is not taught in schools nor is it a major media-visited subject, in spite of the many incidents where people rose against the power to assert Cultural Diversity and gain acceptance for their cultural identity. Even though Algeria is culturally diverse in its people, dialects, colours, geographic and demographics, this diversity remains very much contained and to a certain extent acknowledged but not celebrated.

Due to Algeria’s strategic position within the Mediterranean basin and the strong movement of invaders, travellers and slavery throughout history, our nation is a melting pot of Mediterranean races, colours and features from Turks, Romans, and Arabs to Berbers, our Berbers are so diverse they can be Kabyle from the North east to Chawis in the high plateaux or Mozabite in the south east and last but NEVER the least the Touareg in the extreme south. Algeria boasts such diversity in its people that you could feel in a different country every time you reached a town or a city, you'll find a different dialect, different culinary traditions, social dynamics and race, feeling this if you are a foreign or a tourist is perfectly acceptable, but to experience this feeling being an Algerian…well is an issue I beleive.

Cultural Diversity is celebrated in Algeria only through music and even that is a relatively new trend, with Rai music going international it is much more recognised and notable as part of the Algerian heritage, Gnawa(1) music on the other hand is the new marvel in the Algerian music scene, it is widely heard, loved and celebrated by the people and the government alike where dedicated festivals are held every year to celebrate and promote the Gnawa culture.But racial diversity doesn’t seem to have advanced much in Algeria.

A simple case of mixed marriages could be a barometer for the situation and we see a very negligible number of mixed marriages in Algeria. Between black and white is a rarity and between Berbers and Arabs is certain to cause family problems albeit to a less degree nowadays in big cities but in the Berber regions (Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia mostly) non Berber marriages are usually unacceptable.Berbers in general and Kabyles in particular have a clear no-mixing policy aimed at preserving their language and race. Chawis it seems are more tolerant but Mozabite are absolutely non cooperative with non-Mozabite people in terms of social mixing, Mozabite celebrated their uniqueness for centuries through their unique architecture, language, costumes, they even practise faith separately from the rest of the Muslims, their sect or Madhab is Ibadite.Algerians can be very discriminatory amongst themselves, they compare regions and colours, accents and dialects, this comparison is usually prejudiced and used to ridicule and make fun rather than to acknowledge and understand.

As an example, generally in Algiers everyone who is not from Algiers the Capital is an outsider and therefore not accepted, mocked or even ridiculed, this phenomenon is duplicated throughout Algeria and other cities where people from the big cities subjugate people from small towns and villages as outsiders. This phenomenon has been going on for as long as I can remember and I have seen this continued here in the UK between Algerians albeit to a lesser extent. Another prominent example of this intolerance is the blatant and very obvious treatment of the Arabs by the Berbers when on their own turf, should you visit say Bejaia for your summer holiday unless you have very fair skin and could easily pass for a kabyle or spoke Berber you will be sure to be treated badly or refused service in restaurants obviously some places are more welcoming than others and aspire to do business rather than politics. But the feel of being an outsider overwhelms you in these regions and makes you feel very unwelcome.

This segregation between the Arabs and the Berbers is very obvious, Berbers rebel against the government for lack of recognition of the Tamazight (2) language (the Tamazight Language was recognised as an official language in 2003 and is taught in some schools but it doesn’t have equal status as an official language alongside Arabic) and the struggles of the Berber people by rejecting the Arabs, their language, politics and religion. More and more Berbers are converting to Christianity through catholic missionaries who live in the mountains in the Berber region, most of the Berbers do not speak Arabic or with a very heavy accent like a foreigner who is just getting used to the vowels, and so to avoid ridicule or perhaps because it is easier they would communicate in French.

Algerians are a nation that is torn and segregated by their languages, traditions and colours, what should make our nations power and unity is in fact dividing us. Whose fault it is that Algerians lack tolerance? Is it the educational system? How can such deeply nationalistic nation who would unite and swear solemn allegiance to ALGERIA for football cannot unite to help our economy and social standing prosper?
(1) - Gnawa = descendents of black African slaves from the Sahara
(2) - Tamazight: the indigenous languages of North Africa, it belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family and is related to ancient Egyptian and Ethiopian.

Related article of intrest: http://s3.archive-host.com/membres/up/1890583760/The_place_of_cultural_diversity_in_the_Algerian_cultural_policy_Ammar_Kessab.pdf


  1. Good effort
    I know some friends who had difficulties living in Algiers, because they were viewed as outsiders taking the local jobs, it is often just a case of jealousy or insecurity.
    I also know some people who had nightmares working in some Kabylie dominated environments. I think there is a alot of racism in Algerian and to a much larger extent Kabylia.
    But we need to listen to our small and significant minorities.
    Freedom and reform is key

  2. I cant believe that this interesting 'article' has only one comment.
    given that I lived more than 20 years in Algeria, I always knew that there was no tolerence whatsoever when it comes to differences amongst Algerians themselves or towards others, however, you pointed out something very interesting when u said 'Diversity as a subject is not taught in schools nor is it a major media-visited subject' unlike in civilised countries where this subject is continuingly taught to keep people united and strong rather than divided and weak.
    very well done for the effort.

  3. Thanks Anoynoums and Delboy34.
    these are observations that I made but they are also facts...no one can dispute the intolerence and regionalism in Algeria.

    Some Anonymous left me a comment yesterday stating that I must be from some village "dawar" and thats why my ideas are unfounded and do not count...I rest my case.

    1. The one who left you that silly comment is just proving that what you say is true and as we all know truth can be hurtful.

  4. You are right. The tribal mind is a fundamental characteristic of the algerians. But it is not specifically algerian since neighbors Tunisia and Morroco have the same divides between tribes, people cities and villages.

    More worrying, racism against black people and chinese is now a scourge in the country.

  5. Merci Chatnoir. I have heard of some stories depicting the discrimination the Chinese are facing in Algeria, and the Black community, Algerian and non Algerian (sub-Saharan) perhaps I should have touched on the subject.

  6. From Lahcene : Thank you I red it with high interest and I agree with most however it seems that we go often with the obvious when it comes to discussing diversity , ethnicity and so on ... First Algeria is a vast country 4 times + the size of France ... France as example till the industrial revolution and even down to the 1970's major divisions excisted such as the Celt of Brittany known as breton , the Basque , the Alsatian the corsican till recently there revendication are that all want their own language , autonomie etc... with often rejecting the sense of nation . France has oppressed more this movement that Algeria did over the history ..until France build up his roads and railway sytem and improved it thru the 20th century all regions were ingulfed within close nearly to outsiders in a way and here ma talking about regions which are now 1 hour by TGV and 2-3 hrs by car ... you might wander why am saying that the result was the : DESENCALVEMENT of all regions ppl started to travel the coutry and discover how beautiful coutry they were part of and started to embrace their own country gradually as a whole None of these regions had their language as administrative or else but they could cultivate it if they want it too some regions had their own tv in their dialect that was not objected as long as they all spoke one language sense of unity and not of oppression as often it is perceived ... In algeria last year 250,000 student took the curriculum of the Berbere/Kabyle language ..the problem as we know is the lack of teacher ready to take it on and Algeria been training as much teacher as possible , Kabyle have their own tv etc.. to come back to the desanclavement of regions Algeria is a huge country with mountain and often ppl have not travel in most of cases 50km from their house that can not be inclusive of all and have a nagtional sense of unity and knowing each other ... with the new roads being build and railways system and more ppl have cars as you might know Algeria is the 1st car market in africa by value and volume that will have an impact as how ppl think by desanclaving the ppl , the regions ... I do not believe that what you describe is racism as some have said but rather snobism go to Paris and say you from Marseille or Rennes , or Nantes the reaction be exactly the same .... therefore in what i Have red I did not see except describing the landscanp of Algeria as a whole I have not seen anything particular to Algeria we find thru history and many countries the same issues and they have worked it out , we are at the begining of desanclaving our regions and our brains :)

  7. Great comment. Thanks Lahcene. My post did not indeed go into the details, I merely touched on the surface of the subject. I wrote what I know and have known my country in it's diversity.

    Transport is absolutely a major factor in connection people, ethinic groups and minorities and Algeria has made huge development in the field.

    G;ad to see you here on the blog though :)

  8. I am originally from Bechar and my family moved to Algiers when I was 2 years old. I lived 28 years of my life in Algiers and as a very dark skinned man, I can speak from experience as I was on receiving end of Algiers racism or snobism as some call it. It was as if I had a different passport colour or a different nationality. My father fought the French, went to prison, and was tortured because of the Algerian flag, not because of the Bechar flag of the Sahara flag. If you live in Algiers and you are from another region, prepare to be called kavi, gallit, vat and the all the bunch insults directed towards people from other regions, no matter if you are a professor from Harvard University or the brightest mind in Algeria, a small time waiter or shoe polisher from Algiers can call you these names and believe they are better than you just because they have Algiers in their birth certificate. Well I was born in Bechar and bread in Algiers, this didn't make me become a thug or a criminal. I have studied to a masters degree and enjoy a good life in England. My place of birth I am proud of it. although in the sahara and not as urban as Algiers, it gave birth to geniuses like Alla El Foundou, the best oud master probably in world. In Algeria, the fairer the skin colour, the better regarded is the person. Skin colour can decide , the kind of jobs you have access to, the choice of wife to marry and even the unuvirsities and colleges you can have admission to.
    Please, please, and please dear country men and women, let's continue talking about this problem until we raise awareness and an ocean is made of drops.

  9. Thanks for sharing this! it's so typical of the north-south divide!

    The thing is, the capital belongs to all, to all Algerians and non-Algerians whoever has the chance to live and work there, much like London (not that there's a contest). Algiers isn't for the Algerois only I am afraid and the sooner they realise it the better.

    They act and talk as if they were the reason the Capital was so great and now with people from around the country moving in it is ruined and they evoke old tales and say Ya Hasrah as if they had anything to do with it. Ignorant and infuriating behaviour!

  10. How do call the fact that people from Algiers think they are better than people from other Algerian regions ?
    It's not racism as it is not based on colour of the skin.
    It is not snobbism as a lot of people who are not from algiers are richer and more highly educated.
    I call it the "wladlbladism". I hope this word make its way into the dictionary one day.
    I lived in Algiers for 29 years and never felt welcome. Though I have the same colour passport as them, not the same colour of skin.
    To those who claim "Yaklou lghlla ou ysabbou lmalla" my answer is Lghlla I worked for it and nodoby gave it to me for free. Lmalla, I don't insult everyone just those who insulted me with the word Kave all my life. Most of the are uneducated biggots who don't know how to spell their own name.

  11. intolerance, racism, and snubism are stinky old farts from the past still hanging around in the Algerian skies. It takes a lot of air freshener power to get rid of them.


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