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memri
October 6, 2006 No.
1308

Algerian Berber Dissidents Promote Programs for Secularism and Democracy in Algeria

Since the "Berber Spring" of 1980, the Kabylie region in northern Algeria has often been the center of agitation for political reform in the country.

Two groups from Kabylie have recently launched ambitious programs for political reform. The Arouch Citizens' Movement, a non-parliamentary association of popular councils that arose in the aftermath of clashes with security forces in 2001, adopted, at a conference held September 21-22, the Memorandum for a Democratic and Social Republic in Algeria. The memorandum calls for democratic reform, separation of religion and state, and granting Amazigh (Berber) the status of a national language alongside Arabic.

The second group, the Movement for Autonomy in Kabylie (MAK), was also slated to hold a conference on September 21-22, to promote its March 2006 Tifrit Declaration, but the conference was postponed to November after state authorities refused to grant the necessary permits. [1]

Whereas the Arouch Memorandum presents its demands as being the fulfillment of the ideals of the Algerian War of Independence, the Tifrit Declaration calls for political decentralization, local autonomy, and a clean break with what it terms "militarist Arabo-Islamic Algeria."

The following are excerpts from the memorandum and from the declaration:

The Memorandum for a Democratic and Social Republic in Algeria

Following are excerpts from the Arouch Citizens' Movement's "Memorandum for a Democratic and Social Republic in Algeria":

"Algeria, which has had several constitutions without ever having succeeded in giving substance to the ideals put forward in the principal historic founding texts of the Algerian state... must not miss yet another opportunity for the establishment of a true democratic and social republic...

"Today, after 40 years of independence marked by numerous revolts that were sparked by the constant quest in society for democracy and social justice, the country remains the prisoner of a putsch-ist logic and a clannish alternation of power, which has given birth to a closed system in which democracy plays nothing more than an accessory role. Like in a medieval monarchy, the status of Algerians is that of subjects, and not of citizens. The political rulers have stripped Algerians of their very identity, wanting, at any cost, to dilute their personality in the Arabo-Islamic mill... It is necessary to consecrate Algerianism as the personality of the Algerian people, along with the reference to their North African-ness, in the preamble of the constitution.

"Also, it is through respect for all the democratic freedoms laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, without any admixture of the religious and the political, that the country can arrive at a stability that will permit it to blossom, culturally and economically... Therefore, the constitution must clearly separate religion, which is a private affair... from politics, which is a public affair. Above all, it is imperative to correct the contradiction found in the present constitution, which states [simultaneously] the principle that 'Islam is the state religion' (Article 2), together with its opposite, 'liberty of conscience is guaranteed' (Article 18)... Likewise, [the new constitution] must, on the political level, assure the obligatory [orderly] transition of power in a democratic manner...

"The erection of a state ruled by law based on a democratic regime (which would guarantee all of the political, socio-economic, and cultural rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), cannot be achieved without the full satisfaction of the following conditions:

A. The designation by ballot, in a free, democratic, and reliable manner, of the representatives of the people;

B. A true separation of powers (legislative, executive, and judicial);

C. The institution of real, efficient, and permanent checks [on power] by independent bodies...

D. The consecration, without any half-measures, of freedom of expression and of a pluralism of political parties, free of any pressure, confiscation, or administrative blackmail.

"In order to concretely implement these cardinal principles, it is necessary to bring a number of amendments and corrections to the constitution... and to bring all existing laws in line with this constitution...

"At first glance, it seems that the current Algerian constitution is democratic and that many articles... formally and unequivocally consecrate the sovereignty of the people and the guarantee of liberties and of citizens' sacred rights. Nevertheless, tortuous formulations, which include built-in contradictions, have cancelled out or rendered ineffective the majority of the emancipatory provisions conveyed in this basic law. Moreover, [the constitution] also has been spared neither flagrant violations by the rulers, nor personal and self-interested interpretations, which have inspired legislation that is often unconstitutional, but has nevertheless been declared in conformity [with the constitution] by the powers that be..."

The Tifrit Declaration

Following is the text of the MAK's Tifrit Declaration, which was drafted on April 14, 2006, and was to serve as a basis for the September conference that was banned by the authorities:

"The secular struggle for liberties in Algeria has known various phases, with their successes and failures.

"Being the flagship region in the fight for liberty and democracy, Kabylie is today plunged into a total lack of security: political violence, social violence, and - a new phenomenon - the exploitation of delinquency as an arm of politics. [2]

"This is a critical moment! The citizens of this country are today witness to the consecration and finalization of the strategic alliance between the supporters of the system [i.e. the regime] and Arabo-Islamism. [3]

"This alliance, which assumes the extinction of public life and the privatization of the state and its national wealth, has begun to stifle the project of democracy and modernity - with the complicity of the international community, whose indifference is rivaled only by the volume of commercial trade with the ruling regime.

"The elites of this region [i.e. Kabylie], in concert with the population, as well as with all those who identify with the project for democracy, are concerned at the gravity of the situation.

"They need to adopt, in order to ensure for our children a future of peace and dignity, the already-clear ideological... demarcation between themselves and the supporters of militarist Arabo-Islamic Algeria.

"The rupture with the Jacobin conception of the state - which is a continuation of French colonialism and which has devoured democratic hope and spawned this alliance [between the regime and the Islamists] - is a strategic historical necessity.

"The experience of fighting for democracy and modernity in the framework of the current institutional system - whether through political parties or through other forms of organization, like movements, forums, and assemblies - has failed.

"Resistance and the reorganization of the democratic project must take place, on the one hand, through the sociological and political consolidation of the region that is capable of conducting it [i.e. Kabylie] and, on the other hand, through the assembly of the political, cultural, and economic elites in order to elaborate which forms of organization are capable of producing the political power necessary to accomplish the democratic project.

"The re-foundation of the national state outside of the unificationist and centralized conception [of the state] is the only path to the construction of the democratic project.

"We, the signatories to this call, invite all political activists, human rights activists, trade unionists, Amazigh [Berber] cultural activists, as well as all citizens, women and men, who care about ensuring a future of peace, dignity, and progress for our children, to a regional meeting where everyone's good intentions will be put into service..." [4]

The text of the declaration is followed by a list of the original signatories:

AIT MAAMAR Idir ADJLANE Sofiane RAMI Nourredine HADDAD Nacer MEHENNI Ferhat BOUMEDINE Hamou TAYEB Mohand Larbi BRAHITI Mustapha AIT BACHIR Ahmed OUNOUGHENE Idir ADLI Younes MOUZAOUI Ali OUCHALLAL Karim SADI Abdenour HACHIM mohand Ouamar AOUANECHE Ali BOUZERAR Ahmed BENKHELLAT Abderrezak SAADI Azzedine AZEM Hocine LAIMCHI Said HADDAD Hakim KADI Belaid SAIDOUN Mohamed AIT CHEBBIB Bouaziz HAMOUDI Arezki MEZIANE Med Seghir REGHDI Omar CHEBRI Mahmoud OUCHALLAL Abdelkader BENALLEL Litamine BENSALEM Achour CHAIT Salem BECHAKH Lahlou AMER Mohand Lounis MOKEDDEM Atmane ALGANE Mohamed DJENNADEN Walid DEMOUCHE HAKIM DEMOUCHE KACI BELLILI Mohamed MEZOUARI Hocine BOUIDGHAGHEN Yahia BECHA Boussad BOUROUBA Mustapha DAHMANI Nabil BELLAL Nouredine TAKKA Yacine TAKHDMIT Azedine BERRANI Ali SAM Farida NAIT SID Maizeine ANNOUH Mohamed OURTELLI Hamid SAADI Azedine ELBIR Samir BOUAICHE Redouane IBRI Youcef HADDADJ Seddik BELKACEMI Djamel HAMOUM Meziane ZALOUK Merzouk ASLI Mebarek NAIT SLIMANE Kamel HAMITOUCHE Ahmed IBAZATENE Zahia YAHYATENE Mahmoud LARABI Rabah

Endnotes:

[1] http://www.kabyle.com/spip.php?article11162, September 28, 2006.

[2] This is an allusion to the MAK's claim that the regime encourages banditry in Kabylie in order to garner public support for the return of the gendarmerie to the region. The gendarmerie had, under public pressure, been withdrawn following clashes in 2001, in which a number of peaceful protesters were killed.

[3] The reference is, in particular, to the six-month amnesty declared by the government in early 2006 for terrorists who lay down their arms, and more generally to the Program for National Reconciliation, which aims to reintegrate former Islamist forces into society. Recently, a number of former political leaders and military commanders associated with the Islamic Front for Salvation (FIS), among them Madani Mezrag and Rabah Kebir, have returned to Algeria and expressed interest in renewing their political activities.

[4] http://www.makabylie.info/IMG/doc/DECLARATION_DE_TIFRIT.doc, April 14, 2006.