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 Friday, 5 July, 2002, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
France's Algerians: divided loyalty
Nassim (l) arrived in France from Algeria last December
Immigration was a key issue during the last elections
As Algeria reaches the 40th anniversary of independence from France, an Algerian journalist living in Paris, Farid Khelifati, reflects on his experiences.

I never thought I would settle in France permanently when I was posted here as a journalist 12 years ago.

Algeria had just introduced a degree of democracy, which augured well for political, cultural and social freedoms after two decades under the single-party system.

But Islamic fundamentalists and Algeria's leaders shattered people's hopes of seeing their country become a genuine democracy.

The former took advantage of the new, democratic institutions to try openly to declare an Islamic republic, and the latter stifled public opinion to stay in power at all costs.

No regrets

It was then that I began to have doubts, particularly when the most radical Islamic fundamentalists took up arms, not against those who ran the country with an iron fist, but against those they viewed as their worst enemies: intellectuals, liberated women and journalists.

More than 60 of my colleagues were killed by Islamists, and my family in Algiers discouraged me from coming back.

But what I thought was a temporary decision became a resolute choice over the years.

Firstly, I was afraid I would be shot down like a dog when I left my house.

Mixed feelings

Secondly, I stayed for the sake of my children, believing they have unwittingly escaped the unenviable fate of young Algerians who are desperate to flee their country even at the cost of their lives.

And thirdly, let's face it, I have a good quality of life, something beyond the reach of most Algerians.

But in truth, 10 years on, I have mixed feelings.

I do not feel totally French - quite simply because some people remind me this is not so at the slightest opportunity.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Le Pen is loud, his supporters quiet

The genuine fear felt by many North Africans after the first round of the presidential election in April, when the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen came second, is evidence of the permanent state of insecurity these people live in - be they first-generation immigrants who came to France decades ago, or their grandchildren, born in France and called "beurs" (slang for Arabs) to distinguish them from their parents.

But somehow, I do not identify with them, although they are my fellow citizens.

They themselves are going through an identity crisis, as demonstrated a few months ago at a friendly football match between France and Algeria, when they invaded the pitch 20 minutes before the end of the game.

New generation

They ran around in a cheerful chaos, waving the Algerian flag, perhaps to provoke those who will not recognise them as French or Algerian on both sides of the Mediterranean.

Zinedine Zidane
Zidane: France's best known "beur"

In fact, I think I belong to a new generation of Algerians, among all those waves of immigrants who have crossed the sea to live in France.

That generation is made up of educated people who could have helped build the country to make it an advanced nation if they had not been deliberately pushed towards the exit.

But that is just one of the paradoxes of History.

Forty years ago, Algerians did not want to have anything to do with France, and now, those who manage to get a visa to live there consider themselves more than lucky.


Islamist uprising

Berber struggle

Economic hardship

Background
See also:

13 Feb 01 | Middle East
13 Feb 01 | Middle East
07 Feb 01 | Europe
20 Jan 01 | Middle East
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