Algeria: Uprising in Kabylia

Revolutionary Worker #1135, January 10, 2002, posted at

Since April of last year, Algeria has been shaken by uprisings among the Amazigh (Berber) people in the Kabylia region. This country in north Africa has seen ferocious street battles against the government forces, especially by poor youth, as well as huge protests of hundreds of thousands of people.

The immediate spark for the upsurge was the April 18 murder of a student by the Algerian gendarmes (national paramilitary police). Eighteen-year-old Massinissa Guermah was shot 27 times at the local gendarme post in Beni Douala, near the regional capital, Tizi Ouzou. The police then fired at youth protesting the killing. As outrage quickly spread, fighting broke out in the towns and villages throughout Kabylia. During an intense period of ten days, youth attacked government and police buildings with rocks, Molotov cocktails, and iron bars. They demanded the withdrawal of gendarmes from Kabylia and rights for the Amazigh people, including the recognition of their language, Tamazight.

In a report on the Kabylia uprising, the latest issue of the revolutionary internationalist journal A World to Win (2001/27) gives some background: "The Amazigh are descendants of the occupants of North Africa before the Arab/Islamic invasion. The population of Tunisia, Libya and Morocco as well as Algiers are heavily marked by their non-Arab roots. Although a thousand-year forced Arabisation and Islamisation has had a big impact, even today 25 percent of Algerians are Tamazight speaking. In Morocco, the percentage is even higher, perhaps half the population. Although Berber is the more common name, it comes from the Latin word for barbarian and is considered an insult. All these governments deny them the right to use their language in public life, and their culture is suppressed. They are subject to contempt and discrimination. The gendarmes in Kabylia ride roughshod over the people, taking what they want from small shops, extorting businessmen and especially harassing, beating and sometimes murdering the youth."

During the Algerian war of independence against France (1954-1962), Kabylia was a major bastion of struggle. But the end of direct colonial rule did not bring real liberation for the people of Algeria, who continue to be oppressed by imperialist domination, bureaucrat capitalism (which is dependent on imperialism), and semi-feudalism. The oppression of the Amazigh people has been part of this overall continuation of the old social and economic relationships under the rule of the post-independence governments. While France remains the main imperialist power in Algeria, the U.S. is also circling like a vulture, trying to snatch the country for its own oil and strategic interests.

Since the ten days of rebellion in April, the youth and others have continued their struggle against the Algerian regime. On May 21, more than half a million people--city residents and people who came down from the villages in the mountains--took part in an illegal demonstration in Tizi Ouzou. Then on June 14, more than a million people marched through the streets of Algiers, the country's capital. Many Amazigh people live in Algiers, and large numbers of protesters from Kabylia poured into the city as well. But the June 14 march also involved many non-Amazigh Arabic-speaking youth from the city's ghettos and shantytowns, and the protesters denounced the Algerian government in the name of all of the country's peoples. The young rebels burned down government buildings and fought with the police.

The most recent clashes took place in early December in Tizi Ouzou. After the gendarmes used tear gas against people staging a sit-down protest at the police headquarters, youth battled the police with rocks and Molotov cocktails. The struggle of the youth has also gone up against the reformist nationalist forces who hope to make some kind of a deal with the ruling regime. And it has won the support of others in Algeria who oppose the reactionary regime. A university professor in Kabylia said that the government is "trying to ghetto-ize us. But the truth is, we are making connections and finding support all over this country."

The uprising in Kabylia has developed at a time when unemployment and poverty among the masses of people are skyrocketing--while the ruling class enriches itself from selling oil and natural gas to the imperialists. The Kabylia upsurge has also taken place in the context of a difficult situation that has confronted the masses of people in Algeria for the past decade.

As A World to Win notes, "In 1992, at the behest of France, to which the Algerian government is beholden, the ruling generals took power openly to prevent the election of an Islamic regime. Since then, more than 100,000 people have been killed in the context of the conflict between the army and Islamic armed groups. These Islamic forces are reactionaries seeking to install a regime like that in Iran. Like their Iranian brethren, they have no use for the masses and great willingness to cut a deal with imperialism, including the U.S., which has maintained contacts with them. Both sides have carried out massacres in the villages and murderous attacks on sectors of the urban secular middle classes and intellectuals. It is often nearly impossible to tell whether it is the bureaucrat capitalist regime or its equally anti-people Islamic rivals who have committed the countless mass murders and assassinations that have ceaselessly afflicted the people.

"It is into this gloomy situation that the people of Kabylia and the youth in general have burst like avenging rays of sunlight."

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