« Hogra » is the lot of all youg Algerians
The authorities’ attempt to single out rioting as peculiar to Kabylia have backfired. Official contempt and brutality have fuel young people’s resentment nationwide.
Algiers, 14/06/01 -The spread of rioting to areas in east and south-east Algeria has foiled the regime’s clumsy attempt to circumscribe protest and debunked its claim that the trouble could be ascribed to Berber demands for special treatment.
The authorities had toyed with the idea of selling to the rest of the country that Kabylia was a threat to national unity. The incidents between young troublemakers from Algiers and Berber demonstrators at the end of the May 31st demonstration in the capital seemed for a moment to confirm official claims.
The resumption of dialogue between President Bouteflika and political parties, albeit those in the ruling coalition, was seen as a closing of ranks and the subtext of statements by party leaders following talks with Bouteflika emphasising the importance of national unity was there was a threat.
Bouteflika himself, on visits to areas in southern Algeria, said there was a major foreign conspiracy being hatched and that FFS leader Hocine Ait Ahmed – whom he stopped short of naming – was plotting against the country. His audiences chanted slogans of national unity in response.
Berber folk singer and activist, Ferhat M’henni, naively added gristle to the regime’s mill with his cumbersome call for making Kabylia a special case and asserting that the people there yearned for autonomy.
He came in for swift, unambiguous condemnation from senior politicians and influential community groups in Kabylia. The Berber-based Socialist Forces Front (FFS) alleged the regime was manipulating him.
Hogra causes resentment
The attempt to single out Kabylia ran counter to the very nature of the protest movement, however. The widely shared demands for recognition of the Berber identity have not outweighed resentment at « hogra » (officialdom’s contempt), at injustice and abuse of power by the security forces.
The conspiracy theory has profoundly distorted any clear understanding of the mindset of young people across Algeria, and not only in Kabylia. The chain of events that triggered rioting in Khenchela in eastern Algeria, for example, was glaringly reminiscent of the way trouble was sparked in Kabylia.
Heavy-handed treatment by the paramilitary police lad to confrontations with young people, who vented their rage on public buildings and symbols of the regime. The backdrop was one of exasperation with social conditions, poverty and no future.
Nothing distinguished young people’s antipathy for the state and its representatives in the eastern towns of Khenchela and Annaba from that of a young Berber in Tizi Ouzou.
Indeed, so blindingly obvious are the similarities that the regime will have to come up with something better than trying to set Arabs and Berbers against each.
Columnist, Saad Bouokba, who writes for Arabic-language paper, Echourouq, has been a fierce critic of Kabylia’s separatism. But even he has had to think again as violence has flared across the east of the country.
« The regime has become a template of violent acts for young people. It acts violently towards ordinary people in broad daylight. It organises elections then cancels them when results do not go its way… At best it holds elections and rigs them publicly using force, then tells protester ‘you’ve got walls in front of you, go and break your heads against them if you don’t like it’… When state violence ceases, so will that of the country’s youth. »
The weight of sociological evidence belies any dangerous attempts at diverting attention from the real causes of violence. As one academic from Algiers darkly jested: « Young people are united by the hogra which they undergo and the rampages on which they go. »