Berber Blues
Algeria’s Berber Awakening

An outbreak of violence between Algeria’s Mozabite Berber and Chaamba Arab populations resulted in at least 22 deaths in the last two days, the deadliest such clash since tensions between the two groups emerged after the vandalization of a Berber shrine in late 2013. The NYT:

The violence in the poor desert region of Ghardaia, more than 600 kilometers (375 miles) south of Algiers, was the latest episode of sporadic but sometimes deadly unrest between rival gangs of Berbers and Arabs.

Riot police moved in to quell the clashes that included fires and vandalism targeting shops, cars and public buildings in the towns of Guerrara, Ghardaia and Berianne, the official APS news agency reported.

Writing in these pages back in 2011, North Africa scholar Bruce Maddy-Weitzman highlighted a resurgence of Berber cultural identity and predicted that, as it took the form of a more proper movement for social and political authority, conflicts could arise. And indeed, in the past year and a half, hundreds of Mozabite homes and shops in the M’zab region of Saharan Algeria have been destroyed in altercations between the two ethnic groups. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, addressing the incident on Wednesday, stated his intention to stem the tide of violence and seek lawbreakers “with diligence and severity.”

In a region that is defined by religious and ethnic clashes, the tensions between the two neighboring communities is not without precedent. As the Berbers seek to reclaim and preserve their millennia-old, native heritage, the best case scenario is that the Algerian government accommodates their want for cultural and political authority.

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