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North African Instability
Is Algeria Next?

Ethnic violence has erupted in Algeria’s southern desert city of Ghardaia this weekend. One man died,  ten were wounded and homes and businesses went up in flames. The city’s population is divided between Sunni Arab migrants and Algeria’s Mozabites, an ethnic division of the Berbers, who have lived peacefully alongside Arabs in Ghardaia for centuries. The Huffington Post reports:

For the past month, there have been intermittent clashes between young men from the two groups and over the weekend, a Mozabite man was stabbed to death. At least 30 shops were also set on fire, the state news agency said.

Around 3,000 policemen were sent Monday to stabilize the situation and the next day, the state news agency announced seven men had been arrested and were being investigated with another 16 in custody.[…]

Violence between the two communities has erupted in the past. A U.S. State Department cable on the 2009 clashes that left two dead and 100 others injured ascribed the violence to competition between the Arabs and Mozabites over land and resources as the populations swell.

This recent surge of violence is sure to raise the flames under an already simmering pot. The Berber nationalist movement Amazighité could well use this as an opportunity to strengthen Berber collective unity throughout the Maghreb. This would come at the expense of Algerian security forces, many of whom have been accused of acquiescing to Arab aggression, some of even taking outright sides in the rioting. (For a good backgrounder on Amazighité, look no further than TAI.)

The zone of disorder that continues to form in the wake of the Arab Spring is at Algeria’s doorstep. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been active in the region, and as the attack on the In Anemas gas facility one year ago shows, Algeria’s stability should not be taken for granted. As one of the world’s largest exporters of gas, cracks in the Algerian sand may mean more than just puffs of air escaping.

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