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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 01:41 GMT 02:41 UK
Analysis: Can the Berber revolt survive?
Demonstrators in Bejaia, north-eastern Algeria
The death of a Berber youth in police custody sparked the current unrest
By North Africa correspondent David Bamford

Tension remains high in the Algerian region of Kabylia, nearly four months after the death in police custody of an ethnic Berber youth sparked Berber unrest that swept across the region.

Map showing Kabylia region around Tizi Ouzou
The crisis has severely shaken the civilian government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, which was already being undermined by the continuation of the guerrilla war with Islamist militants in spite of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's two-year-old amnesty peace plan.

But while the Berber unrest continues, does it have the strength to develop into a full-scale uprising?

Berber activists were in action in Algiers again last week, attempting to disrupt a prestigious international youth festival, and, in their regional capital of Tizi Ouzou, besieging the headquarters of the local gendarmerie.

Algerian President Bouteflika
Bouteflika: Threatened by Berbers and Islamic militants
The police have been blamed on all sides for creating the crisis in the first place.

The city streets of Algeria have seen nothing like this turmoil since the rise of the Islamist FIS political movement a decade ago, before it was forced underground by a military coup.

The Berbers are very different from the Islamists in terms of their liberal political direction.

Contradictory factions

But that direction is being compromised by internal political divisions just as it looked as if the Algerian state was preparing to give way to at least some of the main Berber demands.

These include cultural recognition, some autonomy, and the withdrawal of the paramilitary gendarmes.

The Berber cause is being pulled in three different directions:

  • By the two official Berber political parties - the FFS and RCD - who want to work within the system for improved rights
  • By the village elders, whose grassroot strength can command hundreds of thousands to appear on the streets at any time
  • By frustrated Berber youths, who seem bent on confrontation with the authorities at every opportunity, but who lack any coherent goals.

The Berber cause is now dangerously vulnerable.

As with the case of a previous Berber uprising in 1980 that became known as the 'Tizi Ouzou Spring', the current revolt may fizzle out or be crushed, having achieved little or nothing in terms of political liberalisation.

See also:

08 Aug 01 | Middle East
Police move to block Berber march
05 Jul 01 | Middle East
Algeria shuts out Berber protesters
30 Apr 01 | Middle East
Algeria probes Berber riots
01 May 01 | Middle East
Berbers battle for recognition
28 Jun 98 | Middle East
The Berbers: fighting on two fronts
20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
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