By Andrea Loquenzi-Holzer
Right after June 1st, Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia dismissed Mehenni’s announcement as “nothing but din”. It seems that the main problem for your provisional government might turn out to be a legal one, ironically.
To be honest, that’s an answer one can expect from an Algerian official to any endeavour to more democracy or openness. In fact, there have been numerous occasions in the near past whereby fleeing headlong in panic and irresponsibly dismissing serious events was the major policy in the official discourse. In the spring of 2001, the Baccalaureate student who was shot dead by Algerian gendarmes in what became to be known as the “Black Spring” events was similarly called “nothing but a lout!” by the then Interior Minister. That phrase alone contributed hugely in stirring the bloodiest riots Kabylia had known in recent history.
It is because we are fully aware of the Algerian regime’s irresponsible nature that we have decided to no longer await its good will and went on to set up a local government to serve our people. So now we are rather working towards obliging the central government to accept what constitutes a win-win solution for everyone.
What is the short term goal of your cabinet right now? And how would you help the Kabyles in their struggle against Algerian central authorities?
Foreign Affairs are usually a prerogative of sovereign states and we are only claiming self- government status. However, given the specific nature of our government, we decided to create a cabinet for International Relations as these are of paramount importance to us until Autonomy is officially achieved. Our main goals are to strengthen the ties we already have with many friends and sympathisers but on a governmental level or acting henceforth as a government. We are also seeking to develop healthy relations with all those who share our fundamental values of Liberty and Democracy, and those who support our peaceful struggle to recover our fundamental right to existence.
Much has been said about al Qaeda in North Africa. Let’s pretend your provisional government is now official: how would you help out the West against terrorists, especially in the north?
Our indigenous heritage and secular approach to religion constitute the best barrier against the ideology that nurtures islamic terrorism in the region.
We appreciate that Algeria is officially cooperating with the West in the fight against global terror but the truth is it rather encourages the ideology that cultivates it at home. We should not forget that the Algerian regime is cooperating on the matter only after its very existence was threatened by the terrorism of home grown islamists who have been denied a sweeping victory in the 1991 legislative elections (except in Kabylia where they ranked far behind the local secular parties). Algeria and some states in the “Muslim world” may be fighting global terror in order to have political stability at home, but no good will is shown to address the ideology that nurtures terrorism. We have to ask ourselves why people choose Islamic agendas in the first place. The answer is to be found in the Algerian educational system, in its mosques, medias and institutions.
We believe that treating the symptoms does not cure the disease. Military action alone against terrorists is not enough and can even be counterproductive. Real political measures such as consecrating the freedom of religion, eliminating the ideology of intolerance and hatred from education are an imperative investment.
We are confident that our movement’s democratic and secular agenda, once officially implemented in Kabylia, will make a good case for positive reform in the region as it may well be replicated by other entities for their own benefit. This is how we can help the West and the world against extremism, but first, the West and all those who share our values need to help us make these count.
As Minister of International Relations, one of your tasks (among many others) is to reach out for official allies and find support from foreign governments: any luck yet?
We have only established our government a month ago and we are still organising ourselves on many levels. However, this has not prevented us from meeting a few of our allies already with whom we are planning a fruitful cooperation. Obviously, reaching out to other partners is also on the agenda.
Your people have been fighting for autonomy throughout the last three decades at least. But can’t you just bargain with them and obtain federalism instead?
Our call for autonomy is not in contradiction with the establishment of a federal state should it be the desire of the central government and that of other regions. However, we would not call for federalism ourselves because we would be speaking on behalf of all other Algerians who are yet to reciprocate our ideas. That’s a route Kabylia pursued in the past and did not lead anywhere.
Federalism could probably work in Algeria if it is implemented in good will and in true democracy, but it has yet to be claimed by other Algerians.
Explain to us why Kabylie can’t stay united to Algeria and must pursue autonomy instead.
Historically, Kabylia has always been an independent entity until it was defeated by colonial France in 1857 and annexed to the larger territory that the French were conquering since they had taken Algiers of the Turkish Dey in 1830 to form what became to be known as “l’Algérie ” (Algeria). Before French colonialism, North Africa was (and still is) made up of several Berber entities (among them Kabylia), set apart by a larger population which, although is genetically predominantly Berber, has been extensively arabized since the invasion of Arab tribes in the eleventh century and consider itself to be Arab and Muslim. However islam had different influences depending on how it was spread. For Kabylia which has always prevailed militarily, islam eventually found its way through peaceful means to gradually transplant christianity and animist beliefs. This is why orthodox (political) islam has no roots in Kabylia whose political system has always been based on civil and democratic laws. This is still reflected in Kabylia’s modern political parties and movements (FFS, RCD, the Aarch movement, MAK) which all claim secularism and democracy.
After the French conquest and the formation of French Algeria, Kabylia tried one last time to free itself from colonial rule in 1871 but failed and was severely repressed. It has then joined forces with the rest of Algerians in order to oust French colonialism from the whole of North Africa at first, under the umbrella of the North African Star formed in 1926. Then efforts were centred on freeing Algeria through the Algerian national movement and the war of independence in which Kabylia has massively taken part, organized and pursued, till independence was achieved in 1962.
After independence, Algeria was declared an Arab state by the ruling majority who had seized power to pursue the same French model of centralised and Jacobin governance in which the Berber identity was suppressed.
Having strongly believed in Algerian nationalism after seven years of war for independence, Kabylia has always fought for the instauration of democratic and secular values in Algeria and hoped that all Algerians would regain their Berber identity. However for several decades after independence, never a Kabyle political party has been able to have an audience outside Kabylia. We have rather seen Algerians massively voting for a political party (FIS) that was seeking to enshrine an Islamic state. The “nationalisation” and the optional teaching of Berber languages that came at a very high price and which some may consider as political gains, are now used as a means to preach Islamic propaganda in the Kabyle language. In the 2001, during the Black Spring insurgencies which saw the killing of 128 young Kabyles, never a voice outside Kabylia condemned the massacres, yet marches in support of Palestinians were held in a number of Algerian cities.
At that point we came to realise that the problem was not merely linguistic and cultural inequality; it was political and demanded a political solution. Kabylia needs to preserve and promote its language, culture and values, and that can only be achieved through its own state.
As we are a peaceful movement and want to preserve the territorial integrity of Algeria, we are aiming to establish a large Autonomy status whose terms are to be negotiated with Algiers. However, we exhort the Algerian authorities never to resort to violence once more as this may seriously jeopardise our benevolence.
Interview given to Andrea Loquenzi-Holzer for the Hudson Institute New York & L’Occidentale.
See online :
Hudson Institute New York : New Ally Against al Qaeda
L’Occidentale : L’Algeria e l’islam stanno sempre più stretti ai Berberi della Kabylia