Long-standing rivalries between Arabs and the minority Berber community erupted into violence in May 2008. At least three people were killed and many made homeless after three nights of rioting in the north Saharan town of Berriane. Algerian security forces were deployed to quell the unrest. The Berber group involved, the Mozabites (Berbers from the M'zavb valley), say they have been excluded from state jobs and that they continue to be discriminated against by the Arab majority.

Since the 2007 elections, achieving cultural unity within Algeria has been a priority for the government. Education plays a major role in this aim – the government has permitted the teaching of the Berber language in schools in order to reach out to the Berber community. They have also created an Academy and a Superior Council of the Tamazight language. A New York Times report in June 2008 described the efforts by the government to implement changes to the education system and school curriculum to 'wrest momentum from the Islamists'. After French colonial rule ended in 1962, French was banned as the language of education and replaced by Arabic; the study of Islamic law and the Koran became obligatory. An April 2008 report by United Press International claimed that North African al-Qaida were seeking to woo recruits from the Berber community, playing on the unrest revealed in protests on April 20 to honour those killed during anti-government action.

Recently, French has been reintroduced into the curriculum, the most extreme religious teachers have been removed and there have been attempts to revise the religious curriculum. A committee appointed seven years ago to overhaul the school system collapsed under political pressure from conservative and Islamist groups. But in 2008, the government started to make significant changes, including stopping rote learning (which was linked to memorizing the Koran).

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.