State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Algeria
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Publication Date||11 March 2008|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Algeria, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7eacb1a.html [accessed 7 May 2016]|
Parliamentary elections in May 2007 were only the third democratic poll to be held since 1992, when the army cancelled the first multi-party elections which were won by the fundamentalist FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) party. The consequences of the ensuing civil war, marked by extreme brutality, are still being felt today. The Salafist militants, relaunched in 2007 as a branch of al-Qaeda, have their roots in the armed Islamic opposition to the Algerian state. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks across North Africa, including a series of bombings in Algeria, leaving many dead. In January 2007, it targeted security forces in the minority Berber area of Kabylia in north-eastern Algeria. According to BBC News, seven bombs were detonated and at least six people were killed.
Observers said the low turnout in the parliamentary poll reflected the electorate's understanding that power was concentrated in the hands of the presidency not the parliament. For the Berber minority – which makes up approximately 25 per cent of the Algerian population – grievances about recognition of their distinct language and cultural rights remain. Berber political parties were divided about whether to contest the elections: the Rally for Culture and Democracy gained 19 seats, re-entering parliament after a boycott in 2002. However, the Social Forces Front decided once again not to contest the election. About half of the Berber-speaking population is concentrated in the mountainous areas east of Algiers – Kabylia – and this area and its language have been at the centre of most Berber issues in modern Algeria. In 2001, riots and demonstrations erupted in the region, due to widespread claims of repression and marginalization. Since then, the government has promised more economic assistance and eased some restrictions on the use of Tamazight – the Berber language. In its 2007 report on Algeria, the US State Department noted that:
'Access to print and broadcast media for Tamazight and Amazigh culture continued to grow. Tamazight programming also increased on the non-Berber language channels, as did advertisements in Tamazight on all television and radio channels. Beginning in the 2006–2007 scholastic year, the Tamazight language was officially taught in primary schools, starting in the fourth grade in 17 predominantly Berber provinces.'
However, this progress still falls short of Tamazight being recognized as an 'official' language – as demanded by Berber campaigners. Moreover, there are complaints that, outside Kabylia, Berbers' linguistic and cultural rights continue to be restricted.