The “Kabyle Myth” by Paul Silverstein.

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February 20, 2017 by ak4liberty

We are reproducing a study led by Paul Silverstein about the Kabyles in 1990s. The studies was published MER200.

  • Berbers were seen as endowed with values consistent with liberté, egalité, fraternité. In the words of Col. Daumas, head of Algerian affairs for the French government”
  • “Arabs accepted the tutelage of Islamic caliphs, the “fiercely independent” Berbers abhorred the idea of central authority and were prepared to defend their liberty to the death”
  • “The Berbers from Kabylia led the fights to overthrow the colonial state, but De gaulle had surprise for them by turning the Berber dream on its head. Ben Bella and Boumedienne executed the plan to purge the Berber elements from the nationalist movement”
  • “Finally, on the political level, the Berbers’ “natural anarchy” was seen to represent an underlying democracy, symbolized by the egalitarian village council or tajmaat. [10] In sum, Berbers were seen as “almost European” in their nature”

Berbers in France and AlgeriaRealizing Myth

by Paul Silverstein

published in MER200

When the summer 1995 bombings in France brought the Algerian civil war across the Mediterranean, many began to recognize the permeability of political, social and cultural boundaries between the two countries and the extent to which the 1.5 million post-colonial immigrants and their mostly binational children in France functioned as major consumers and producers of competing Algerian political ideologies. Just as the Algerian Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) could trace its origins to the organization of Renault and Citroen workers in 1930s Paris, so too the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) in Algeria and its break-away military branches could be traced to the activities of Islamist militants exiled in Paris during the 1970s and 1980s. [1] The last two French governments have pursued the creation of a “cordon sanitaire” between the two countries, invoking the threat of an international “Islamic terrorist network” linking Algiers to Paris via Sarajevo and Kabul. French authorities have targeted Algerians by imposing further restrictions on immigration and naturalization, random identity checks in Arab neighborhoods and round-ups of suspected Islamist militants and illegal aliens. The minority Berberophone community (20-25 percent of the Algerian population), [2] largely overlooked in the media coverage of recent events, has been a major force in the conflict on both sides of the Mediterranean.

For the last 15 years a movement within this population, especially in Kabylia, has been openly challenging the Algerian government for official recognition of a separate ethnic identity and language (Tamazight). In France, where Berbers constitute between 40-75 percent of the Algerian population, [3] first- and second-generation Berber immigrants have been caught up in the institutionalized “Islamalgam” in which every “Arab” is a potential Islamic terrorist. The conflation is ironic since this same community has been represented historically in the French imagination as less fanatically religious and more easily assimilated into French civilization than Muslim Arabs. The Berber movement has embraced and mobilized elements of this myth to stake out an ideological position between the Algerian military regime and the Islamists. Moreover, with the extension of Berber politics across the Mediterranean, the movement has created a transnational sphere which simultaneously challenges the cultural and political hegemony of the French and Algerian nation-states. 

The Kabyle Myth

Contemporary Berber challenges to French and Algerian national authority are rooted in the colonial “Kabyle myth” which conceptualizes Arab/Berber ethnic differences in Algeria as primordial. While colonial Algeria never had a specific “Berber policy” as in Morocco, [4] a network of research centers, archives and journals devoted to the scientific study of Berber language and culture was created to fix the ethnic boundary between the two groups and to use such a division to justify economic and social policy. [5] The resulting ethnological and military reports characterize the Berbers as uncivilized warriors with a history of defending their mountain refuges against all invaders (Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, French). [6] Whereas the Arabs accepted the tutelage of Islamic caliphs, the “fiercely independent” Berbers abhorred the idea of central authority and were prepared to defend their liberty to the death. [7]

At the same time, these Berbers were seen as endowed with values consistent with liberté, egalité, fraternité. In the words of Col. Daumas, head of Algerian affairs for the French government, “They have accepted the Koran but they have not embraced it.” [8] The Berbers were described as economically frugal by nature, with a “commercial instinct” distinguishing them from the frivolous Arabs. [9] Finally, on the political level, the Berbers’ “natural anarchy” was seen to represent an underlying democracy, symbolized by the egalitarian village council or tajmaat. [10] In sum, Berbers were seen as “almost European” in their nature, [11] with members of the collectivity singled out as the preferred agents of the colonial project in Algeria, the privileged targets of the mission civilisatrice. [12]

The Berbers from Kabylia led the fights to overthrow the colonial state, but De gaulle had surprise for them by turning the Berber dream on its head. Ben Bella and Boumedienne executed the plan to purge the Berber elements from the nationalist movement, [13] the FLN established the newly independent state on the ideological basis that Algeria was historically Arab and naturally Islamic. [14] After 1973, the Boumedienne regime carried this Arabization to its logical end, demonizing Berber identity as simultaneously backward (part of the pre-Islamic jahiliyya) and colonialist (privileged by the French). University courses in Berber linguistics (taught since the colonial period) were eliminated, the public and literary use of Berber was outlawed and a disproportionate number of Islamic institutes were established in Berberophone areas.

Adopting the appellation Imazighen (free men), militant Kabyle intellectuals within the immigrant community in France organized around the Berber Academy (Agraw Imazighen) in Paris and the Berber Study Center at the University of Paris-VIII-Vincennes. They countered the Algerian state’s ideological repression with a modernization of the outlawed Berber language and a resurrection of the written script, tifinagh. [15] They published grammatical treatises, translated poetry and recorded albums [16] in France, which were then disseminated in Kabylia by the flow of people and commodities between the two areas. Thousands of young Kabyles have learned to read and write in their language from those works published in France. [17] The suppression of Berberness in Algeria and its simultaneous rehabilitation in France served to reinforce an Arab/Berber opposition in nearly the same terms as the colonial Kabyle myth. 

Ethnicity and the Transnational Dialectic

The proliferation of contemporary movements in the name of ethnicity and religion has forced observers to reevaluate the received wisdom which juxtaposes “genuine” ethnic groups with “invented” nations. The former, like the latter, have mythologized their own cultural past to justify present actions and their future place in the world. In other words, ethnic groups and nations are both invented. In this context, the nation can be viewed as one possible “imagined community” among others, one very particular mapping of homogenized people onto bounded territory, continually reimagining itself through both daily and periodic rituals of solidarity (such as school ceremonies or elections). Such a production of the nation-state as the premier actor in global politics may, however, be the source of its undoing.

The centrality of the nation-state in the international order has produced transnational regulatory bodies such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the Conseil d’Europe. In order to reinforce their domestic authority, states have engaged in the categorization and enumeration of peoples (mapping, censuses, statistical and ethnographic studies) which, paradoxically, fix the regional boundaries and the ethnic differences they may wish ultimately to subordinate. Claims of “Berber” and “Beur” [18] distinctiveness from “Arabs,” based largely on colonial and nationalist narratives, have forced a renegotiation of state power and ethnic difference in both Algeria and France, as well as their common articulation of territorial borders and state sovereignty.

The Berber/Beur Spring 

The 1980-1981 uprisings of Kabyle students in Tizi Ouzou (formerly “Greater Kabylia”) and the 1983-1985 demonstrations of Beurs in Lyon and Paris signaled the emergence on the political scene of a new generation of militants, mobilized around cultural difference. On March 10, 1980, the Algerian governor of Tizi Ouzou banned a lecture on “Ancient Berber Poetry” by Mouloud Mammeri (a Berber linguist and author living in Paris) to be given at the University of Tizi Ouzou. This set off a wave of student riots, which spread throughout Algeria and even to France (including a large demonstration in front of the Algerian embassy in Paris). The protesters demanded the recognition of linguistic and cultural differences in addition to the social and economic reforms initiated by the newly installed Algerian president, Chadli Benjedid.

Following President Francois Mitterand’s lifting of a ban on immigrant organizations in 1981, many second-generation Algerian immigrants in France began forming cultural associations and organizing anti-racist marches and demonstrations calling for greater civil rights and an end to the racist violence against immigrants in France. Like the “Berber spring,” this movement, which reached its peak in 1985 with the Marche pour les Droits Civiques (March for Civil Rights), called for the recognition of the second-generation’s “right to difference” in the nation’s cultural political spheres.

In retrospect, the near simultaneity of these two sets of events was neither arbitrary nor historically incongruous. Both movements made similar use of this period of transition of governmental power and relative liberalization to articulate particularistic claims that would have been considered seditious in previous periods. Moreover, the two movements had similar demographics and largely shared symbolic sources.

One major effect of the colonial Kabyle myth on contemporary politics was the French government’s preference for Berberophone populations, opening wide avenues for Kabyle emigration to France and the establishment of a permanent connection between the two regions. [19] As many of the self-designated “Beur” militants were of Kabyle origin, it is of little surprise that a number of the declarations (in the form of novels, radio programs and artistic presentations) adopted explicitly Berber symbols. Drawing from Kabyle mythology, the Beurs were presented as a “mixed” people, a synthesis of European and Maghrebian values. [20] Many of the emerging theater groups, musical bands, dance troupes and cultural associations devoted themselves to popularizing artistic genres deemed native to Berber-speaking peoples and drew political inspiration from Berber historical leaders such as Jugurtha, Tacfarinas and Kheira. [21]

The School as Battlefield

The years following the Berber spring in Algeria and the rise of the Beur movement in France witnessed a radical politicization of the debate regarding the place of minorities within the national ideology and state structure of these countries. In the mid-1980s, both Algeria and France underwent severe economic crises. The most bitter repercussions were felt by urban youth and immigrant populations concentrated in peripheral, low-income suburbs (or banlieues), who suffered disproportionately from high rates of unemployment, drug use and petty crime. [22] This extreme marginalization contributed to an atmosphere of unrest in which Algerian hitistes and French banlieusards [23] were pitted against their respective government forces. Although the Algerian context was far more violent, [24] events in both countries were part of a common process in which the social actors in a particular group (urban sub-proletarian minority youth) were responding to their exclusion from the national project and the attending benefits.

At the crux of the conflict in both countries was a general dissatisfaction with the way in which the state education system was being used as a mechanism for the integration qua assimilation of minority populations — the “Francification” or “Arabization” of the respective countries’ inhabitants. In fact, a two-tiered system had developed in both Algeria and France by which extant socio-economic divisions were reproduced rather than erased. In Algeria, despite successes in expanding access to education since independence, “democratization” remained blocked due to the continued employment preference for those with francophone diplomas and the relative exclusion of women from upper levels of education. [25] In France, despite special funding to a number of banlieues, the majority of Algerian immigrant children were put on vocational rather than the more valorized university-preparatory tracks. [26]

The responses of student militants in both countries have been twofold. On the one hand, as in the 1990 student strikes in the Paris region, there was a demand for pragmatic reforms, more teachers and an end to the tracking system in the curriculum. On the other hand, there was a demand for incorporation of cultural difference into the national education systems (such as the teaching of Arabic, North African history or Maghrebian art forms). A decade of French debates over the introduction of a multicultural curriculum came to a head in the heavily publicized “headscarf affair” of 1989. [27]

Entering into the fray, the Mouvement Culturel Berbére (MCB), formed in the wake of the Berber spring, sent an open letter to the candidates for the 1995 French presidential elections, urging them to make the school system the “principal instrument of integration and social promotion” free from Islamist “manipulation.” The letter urged the government to embrace berbérité (of the Kabyle myth) as the true cultural “soul” of North African banlieusards and the key to their socio-economic integration.

The letter’s solicitation dovetailed with a simultaneous movement in Kabylia which sought, from the Arabic-based educational system, a recognition of Tamazight as an official and national language in Algeria. A series of student strikes in 1994 culminated in a school boycott for the entire 1994-1995 academic year, touching all levels of education from primary through professional programs. While almost entirely limited to Kabylia and opposed by many even there, the international popularization of this event did result in the government’s creation of a presidential commission to examine the demands, thus representing the first official recognition of such ethnic claims.

The same year witnessed the burning of schools and assassination of schoolgirls in Algeria by the Groupe Islamique Arme (GIA) for the refusal to eliminate mixed classes or mandate headscarves. Such events illustrate how the education system has become one of the main battlefields on which social and economic struggles in Algeria are being fought. As these struggles in both Algeria and France demonstrate, the education system, the nation-state’s site of reproduction par excellence, became an important location for challenging the state’s national authority. 

Algeria’s Crisis, France’s Lament

Daily fighting between the Algerian government and the Islamists has forced Kabyles in Algeria and Algerian immigrants in France to express their solidarities openly. In Algeria, Berber intellectuals have been among the main targets for Islamist violence, evidenced by the assassination of the writer Tahar Djaout and the kidnapping of singer Lounes Matoub. Berber politics have been divided; while Kabyle immigrants in Algiers have sided with the FIS as an expression of their general discontent with the military government, Berber militants in Kabylia proper have organized local militias aligned with the government and adopted anti-Islamist positions.

In France, a similar division has occurred among second-generation immigrants. The failure of the Beur Movement and its cooptation by mainstream French political parties and organizations was compounded by the rise of French neo-racism which has appropriated the Beurs’ claims of a “right to difference” to justify policies of exclusion and “national preference.” More and more, the second generation has been disaggregated by the alternate appeals from Islamist and Berber organizations which offer language, history and religion classes, sponsor cultural events and provide funding for local community activities.

Nowhere has the Islamist/Berber division been more evident than in the events surrounding recent elections that brought conservative governments to power in France and Algeria. During the weeks leading to the French presidential primaries in April 1995, the major Islamist and Berber associations in France held national gatherings. These meetings targeted youth of Algerian origin in an attempt to reinforce particularistic ethnic or religious solidarities.

In the Berber case, the conferences and seminars held from April 20-22, 1995 commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of the Berber Spring. Many presenters spoke of these struggles, as well as of the more recent political activities of the MCB. Through slide shows of Algeria, dance demonstrations and musical performances, the meetings also functioned as primers in Berber culture for the younger generation born in France. This celebration of Berber heritage was accompanied by a condemnation of political Islam. The walls of the conference and reception rooms were plastered with newspaper accounts of recent political assassinations by the GIA. A moment of silence was observed at the beginning of the conference for these “martyrs” of the recent struggle. In the “Open Letter to Candidates for the Presidency of the [French] Republic” cited above, the juxtaposition of an Islamist “wave of intolerance“ and a Berber “democratic movement” was made even more explicit.

In the period preceding the November 1995 Algerian elections, this contrasting of Islamism and tyranny with Berberity and democracy was developed further. The 1989 constitutional reforms initiated by Chadli Benjedid paved the way for the creation of a Berber-based political party, the Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Democratie (RCD) and the rebirth of Hocine Ait-Ahmed’s Front des Forces Socialistes (FFS), virtually moribund on a national scale since 1966. [28] The RCD emphasized the integrity of a five-part Algerian identity as Arab, Berber, Muslim, African and Mediterranean. In opposing any “Middle Eastern or Afghan identity,” seen as proffered by the “peons of the Islamist International,” the RCD promulgated mythical Berber emblems, including the village assembly (tajmaat) and the “resistance” and “spirit of independence” of the “eternal Jugurtha.” [29] Unlike the FFS, the RCD has refused all dialogue with Islamists and, in direct opposition to the Rome meeting (attended by the FFS, FIS and FLN), submitted its leader, Said Sadi, as a candidate for the Algerian presidency.

This political division between the RCD and FFS in the Berber movement in Kabylia soon reached France. The two major Berber cultural associations in Paris, the Association de Culture Berbere and Tamazgha, differed along RCD/FFS lines and remained in open rivalry throughout the Algerian elections period. Despite this confusion and the general boycott called by the FIS and FLN, nearly a third (411,698 according to official figures) of the 1.5 million estimated Algerian citizens (immigrants and their binational children) living in France voted. [30] The mere act of voting in the Algerian election was deemed threatening by many observers. For Farid Smahi, president of the integrationist group Arabisme et Francite, this expression of solidarity with Algeria was “scandalous.” In his “Plea Against Binationality,” Smahi urged young banlieusards to renounce their ethnic heritage and devote their energies to being good French citizens (including voting in the next French elections), unless they wanted their housing projects to turn into miniature versions of the Gaza Strip. [31] The vote, like the headscarf affair several years earlier, became a major symbol of crisis in the reproduction of the French nation, and, in response, an expression of non-assimilationist ethnic identity. This exercise of civic rights occurred at a particularly difficult period when, following a series of GIA bombings in France, second-generation immigrants were victimized by an institutionalized “Islamalgam” which, through a barrage of identity checks and police roundups, translated Algerian origin into the perceived potential for Islamic terrorism. Connecting Khaled Kelkal, a second-generation banlieusard shot on live television by French law enforcement agents, with the bombings merely increased the tension. In the end, Algerian immigrants voted overwhelmingly for “democracy,” with Sadi receiving 25 percent of the votes versus 10 percent for the moderate Islamist candidate of the Harakat al-Mujtama‘ al-Islami. The reverse was the case in Algeria.

Ethnic Difference and the Nation-State 

Recent events thus indicate the intimate connection between the political situations in France and Algeria. Clearly, the anti-immigrant policies of the last two French administrations have in large part encouraged the growth of radical, extremist identity politics among French-Algerian binationals. From the French perspective, however, this predicament can only be alleviated by a peaceful and democratic resolution of the current Algerian crisis. Unfortunately, such an outcome may be a long way from being realized. First, the Algerian regime, with tacit French support, has systematically excluded Islamic parties from the political process. Second, those very groups that march under the banner of “democracy” and “secularism” have also taken extremist, “eradicator” stances and flaunted a virulent anti-Islamist (if not anti-Arab) ethnic ideology. Finally, the French and Algerian nation-states share an interest in maintaining their continued authority through repressing the ethnic and religious differences which, paradoxically, they historically had helped to foster. What the Berber case makes clear is that ethnic contestation will not disappear through simple declarations of national unity or even through repressive state measures. Like Islamic fundamentalism, the Berber cultural movement will continue to operate in a transnational space outside the control of either the French or Algerian states. In the end, if a lasting peace is the final goal, it is this type of cross-border challenge which the international community must recognize and confront.


[1] On the origins of the FLN, see Benjamin Stora, L’Algérie en 1995 (Paris: Editions Michalon, 1995). On the activities of the FIS in France, see David Pujadas and Ahmed Salam, La tentantion du jihad (Paris: Editions Jean-Claude Lattes, 1995). Sahraoui, one of the co-founders of the FIS, was assassinated in June 1995 in Paris by suspected members of the GIA.

[2] Figures cited here concerning the Berberophone population in Algeria and France are estimated and highly disputed; the last accurate census in Algeria dates back to colonial times and immigration records do not included language categories. See Salem Chaker, Imazighen ass-a (Algiers: Editions Bouchene, 1990). While “Berberophone” remains the most accurate designation for the imagined community in question (as language appears to be the most generally shared characteristic), this article, for the sake of simplicity, uses the dimunitive “Berber.”

[3] Berber militants often cite higher figures, claiming the majority of Algerians are of Berber origin, whether or not they consider themselves as such or speak a Berber dialect.

[4] In Morocco, the colonial government issued the infamous Berber dahir of 1930, in which the Berber populations were administratively divided from Arabs, and were allowed to be governed by their own customary tribunals and courts of appeal instead of the Islamic shari‘a courts.

[5] Often amounting to little more than apologies or rationalizations for the colonial venture, these studies had as one of their primary goals the creation of a standard grammar and transliteration system for the various Berber dialects. These projects often employed Kabyle teachers who, in formalizing their native language, contributed to the formation of a consciousness of ethnic difference. Francophone authors Marguerite and Jean Amrouche, Mouloud Feraoun and Mouloud Mammeri participated in this process. See Dahbia Abrouss, “Le berbére en Algérie: de la revendication identitaire aux perspectives universitaires,” unpublished manuscript, 1995.

[6] The word “Berber” comes from the same Greek root as “barbarian.”

[7] Eugene Guernier, La Berbérie, l’Islam, et la Française, vol. 2 (Paris: Editions de l’Union Franfaise, 1950), pp. 171-72.

[8] Cited in Rachid Tlemcani, State and Revolution in Algeria (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986). Evidence for this qualification included the observation that Kabyle women often went unveiled.

[9] Victor Demontes, L’Algérie economique, vol. 1 (Algiers: Gouvernement General d’Algérie, Direction de L’Agriculture, du Commerce, et de la Colonisation, 1992), p. 9. See also Andre Chevrillon, Les Puritains du desert (Paris: Plon, 1927), p.84; and E. Dumas, Moeurs et coutumes d’Algérie (Paris: Hachette, 1855), p. 178.

[10] Guernier, p. 172.

[11] “Our man is without contest a Mediterranean of the Occident; or better yet, he is an Occidental. The Berbers are part of the rational Occident in formal opposition to the Arabs, who are above all of the imaginative Orient.” Ibid., p. 173. “[The Berber] will easily assimilate to our ideas, to our labor methods.” Demontes, vol. 6, p. 360. In this respect, for the sake of comparison, one could speak of a “Maronite myth” in Lebanon or a “Druze myth’ in Israel. Folklorization and mythmaking are endemic aspects of colonial and nationalist modernity in the Middle East. See Lisa Hajjar and Ussama Makdisi in this issue.

[12] After the declaration of a “Berberist crisis” within the Parti du Peuple Algerien/Mouvement pour la Triomphe des Libertes Democratiques in 1949, those Kabyle leaders who in various ways had stood for an Algérie algerienne (as opposed to Algérie arabe) were either assassinated (Krim Belkacem and Abane Ramdane), jailed (Hocine Ait-Ahmed and Rachid Ali Yahia) or politically marginalized (Ferhat Abbas).

[13] To a large extent, the FLN borrowed directly from the much cited slogan of the Jama‘at al-‘Ulama of the early 1930s: “Islam is my religion. Algeria is my nation and Arabic is my language.”

[14] Tifinagh was borrowed with some revisions, from modern Touareg writing, which they claimed was the original writing of all Berber dialects on the basis of evidence from a 2,000-year old archaeological site.

[15] The invention of the modern Kabyle folksong by expatriate recording artists in France (notably Slimane Azem, Lonnis Ait-Menguellet, ldir, Ferhat M’henni and Lounes Matoub) played a significant role in the spread of Berber culturalism. Adopting traditional poetry into “revolutionary songs of struggle,” these singer-songwriters also played direct political roles and were often persecuted by the Algerian state.

[16] Salem Chaker, “Berberite et emigration kabyle,” Peuples Mediterranéens 31-32 (1985), p. 222. See also Chaker, Imazighen ass-a.

[17] See Arjun Appadurai, “Patriotism and its Futures,” Public Culture 5/3 (1993).

[18] “Beur” is the French sociological term used to refer to second-generation immigrants of North African/Maghrebi origin. The term can designate both people who were actually born in Algeria but migrated to France at a young age (the so-called “first generation”) as well as those who were born in France (and thus are not technically “immigrants”). The term “Beur” was appropriated by these groups in the early 1980s. In the end, “Beurs” are distinct from “Berbers” in that many of them can be “Arab” and in any event “Algerian.” The term “Beur,” embraced as a self-designation by Algerians in France, indicates the close solidarity between the struggles of Berbers in Algeria and North African “immigrants” in France. Some theories hold that this appellation is simply a shortening of “Berber” (hence the phonetic similarities) or, alternately, a contraction of “Berberes d’Europe.” However, a more conunonly accepted explanation proffered by most second-generation Algerians maintains that “Beur” is a syllabic inversion of “Arab.” According to the logic of the Kabyle myth, the ethnic “inverse” of Arabs are Berbers, so the symbolic ties between Beur and Berber become even more tightly drawn. Both cultural movements sought to reject French and Arab cultural norms, positing instead a mixed, mediated identity somewhere between Orient and Occident.

[19] Often dispossessed of their family landholdings by colonial enclosures and exposed to French langnage and culture in colonial schools, Kabyle males became prime targets for government and private recruiters to man the French war machine (as soldiers or factory workers) during both World Wars. Although this migratory flux spread gradually to Arab Algeria as well, on the eve of the Algerian war, over 60 percent of Algerian immigrants in France were from Kabyle provinces, and nearly one quarter of all Kabyle families had at least one member working in France (Mohand Khellil, “Kabyles en France, un apperçu historique,” Hommes et migrations 1179 (1994), p. 14). For a discussion of colonial land expropriations see Pierre Bourdieu and Abdelmalek Sayad, Le deracinement (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1964). For the influence of the colonial school system and colonial recruiters on Kabyle emigration see Mohand Khellil, L’exil kabyle (Paris: l’Harmattan, 1979), pp. 72-77.

[20] See Nacer Kettane, Droit de reponse ala democratie française (Paris: La Decouverte, 1986).

[21] See, for example, Queny Djura, La saison des narcisses (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1993), pp. 109-149.

[22] In Algeria, a situation of “stagflation” was precipitated by an unprecedented 60 percent drop in oil prices (Algeria’s main industry and 98 percent of its exports) in 1986. Double-digit inflation was accompanied by an estimated 25 percent general unemployment rate for 1989, deriving from a minimum of 30 to as high as 85 percent for workers under 24 years of age, well over twice the national average. The significance of these figures lies in the numerical growth of this population, with the under-20 category amounting to over 50 percent of Algeria’s total population during the period in question. Figures adopted from Kamel Rarrbo, L’Algerie et sa jeunesse (Paris: l’Harmattan: 1995) pp. 11, 131; John Ruedy, Modem Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), p. 246; and Zakya Daoud, “Le chomage,” Panoramiques: Banlieues 12 (1993), p. 75.

[23] Hitiste comes from the Arabic word for “wall”; this popular term designated a sub-class of unemployed young males, renowned for passing entire days leaning against the sides of buildings in the urban slums of Algiers and Oran. The term banlieusard evokes the same image in urban France.

[24] In Algeria, unofficial figures place the number of deaths at over 500; Radio-Beur, Octobre à Alger (Paris: Seuil, 1988), p. 56.

[25] See Rarrbo, pp. 93-126.

[26] This included, for example, the creation of “zones d’education prioritaires” in 1990.

[27] Extreme-right supporters and leftist activists alike condemned three girls of Moroccan origin expelled from a Creil grammar school for refusing to remove their hijabs (headscarves) in class. Interpreting the hijab as a rejection of integration in favor of religious extremism, the Balladur-Pasqua government of 1993 formally banned the wearing of the hijab in the classroom in the name of the Republican principle of state secularism. This justification clearly ignored the continued close ties between state education and the Catholic Church in France. For example, it was only in 1995 that an Alsatian law that required each classroom to display a crucifix was finally eliminated. This decision provoked a bitter debate in which the state was accused of lacking religiosity.

[28] Between 1963 and 1965, the FFS led an open revolt in Kabylia against the “fascism” of the FLN. The movement was suppressed and Ait-Ahmed exiled to Europe. Unlike the RCD, the FFS was based more on a socialist than a Berber culturalist platform, and has preferred “dialogue” with Islamist groups, while the RCD maintains that their “eradication” is necessary. The FFS nonetheless maintained a virtual electoral monopoly in Kabylia up until the recent presidential elections (which it boycotted along with the FLN, the FIS and the other signatories of the platform of Rome).

[29] Pamphlet entitled “20 Avril 1995: 15 ans de lutte ininterrompue” by the RCD-Innnigration. The “eternal Jugurtha” refers to an epic poem by Jean Amrouche published in 1943 in which the Berber chieftain was presented as an “emblem of absolute liberty” for later generations of militants.; Tassadit Yacine, “La revendication berbere,” Intersignes 10 (1995), p. 102.

[30] This contrasts directly with the 1991-1992 Algerian legislative elections, which witnessed a relative abstention of immigrant voters due in large part to the requirement that voting be done through written proxy. In addition to simplification of the voting process, the 1995 upsurge in political interest was due to the worsening Algerian crisis and its direct impact on France (through bombings and restrictive laws).

[31] Published in Le Figaro, October, 20, 1995.

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