- Title: ALGERIA: Arab-Berber clashes shake Algerian town
- Date: 23rd May 2008
- Summary: (MER1) ARAB AREA OF TOWN, BERIANE, ALGERIA (MAY 18, 2008) (REUTERS) POLICE VANS PARKED ON SIDE OF ROAD IN ARAB AREA POLICEMEN WALKING DOWN ROAD POLICEMEN TALKING ON SIDE OF ROAD
- Embargoed: 7th June 2008 13:00
- Location: Algeria
- Country: Algeria
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA3CIS8AFP9NK2JJD80B8BD602P
- Story Text: Hundreds of Algerian security forces are deployed in the town of Beriane following three nights of clashes between Arabs and minority Berbers, the worst urban unrest in the OPEC producer for months.
Security is tight in the north Saharan town of Beriane after three nights of clashes between Arabs and minority Berbers broke on Thursday (May 15). Residents said two people, including a 67-year-old, man had been killed and dozens made homeless since the disturbances.
The unrest stems from long-standing local communal rivalries, but shares a feature of riots that have erupted in recent months in other towns due to economic grievances -- the enthusiastic and often violent participation of unemployed youths.
The intensity of the unrest means that Beriane is likely to be seen by Algerians as a test for the government's ability to respond to social tensions at a time of growing national discontent over unemployment and lack of housing.
"This situation concerns the Arab community and the Mozabite Berber community," explained a Berber resident of the town al-Asker Abdul Nasser, whose house was burned in the clashes.
"The Arabs ask us to leave this town. They are jealous of us because we have houses, we have work, we have possessions and they don't have anything. If the State doesn't solve the problem, we will end it with a total separation, and we will be obliged to create borders, like those between Muslims and Christians. We wish for peace," Abdul Nasser added.
"There is no security on the other side. They threaten us. They ask us to leave the town, telling us if we don't obey, they will burn us. They ask us to go to the other side and to leave their one. That's why I'm moving my things and I will escape with my family," added Hamou Hadjadj, another Berber resident.
Tensions between Mozabites -- the name given to Berbers from the M'zab valley in which Beriane is located -- and Arabs stem from economic, linguistic and religious differences and have boiled over into clashes periodically over the past 20 years.
Residents say Arabs tend to resent traditional Mozabite dominance of private commerce, while Mozabites tend to complain they are excluded from state jobs, particularly senior ones.
"The problem is the doctrine. The doctrines are different. We follow the Malekite doctrine (of Islam) and they follow the Mozabite (Ibadi) doctrine. We don't pray with them and they don't pray with us. We don't mix together," said Mbarak, an Arab resident of Beriane.
Mozabites speak their own Berber language, as do other Berber groups in North Africa, and practise the Ibadi form of Islam rather than Algeria's mainstream Malekite Sunni version.
Berbers are the original inhabitants of north Africa but have had tense ties with Algeria's central government and often complain of discrimination by the Arab majority.
The Beriane unrest is so far minor compared to a mass revolt by a different group of Berbers in Kabylie east of Algiers in 2001 in which 100 people were shot dead by security forces.
But street clashes are sensitive in Algeria, a former French colony with a strong history of revolt and where youth riots in 1988 forced the authorities to abandon one-party rule.
Algerians say Arab-Berber ties are a critical issue for the country's search for stability following an undeclared civil war in the 1990s that cost more than 150,000 lives.
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