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Algeria's Kabylie craves friendship with Israel
By SHARON UDASIN AND JAN KOSCINSKI
05/27/2012
Kabylie, a geographic sliver of Algeria's northern coast, wants secession; Diplomat: Freedom for Kabylie, eternity for Israel.
 
For Ferhat Mehenni, Israel is an ideal partner and friend for Kabylie, a geographic sliver of Algeria’s northern coast whose people wish to secede from the large North African nation’s control.

“We are in a hostile environment,” Mehenni told The Jerusalem Post during an interview on Thursday. “Both countries share kind of the same path, but Israel already exists – that’s the only difference.”

Mehenni founded the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie and has served as president of the Provisional Government of Kabylie from exile in France since Algeria’s “Black Spring” period in 2001, during which the Kabylian people challenged the Algerian government’s ban on their culture and language.

Kabylie, located on the northern Mediterranean coast of Algeria, remained its own country throughout the Middle Ages and the Ottoman days, only to become part of Algeria proper during the French colonization period in the mid- 19th century. The region subsequently suffered many battle scars during the Algerian War of Independence, which occurred from 1954 through 1962.

“Kabylie never accepted losing its independence and this is what led the entire battle for the independence of Algeria,” Mehenni said.

The people of Kabylie, who Mehenni said fill Algeria’s universities, were never from Arab or Muslim backgrounds and are from their own Berber culture and language, however.

As such, he explained, “the Kabylians have always had a bit of sympathy for Israel.”

“During the War of 1967, Kabylie applauded the defeat of the Arabs,” Mehenni added.

The Kabylians have tried repeatedly to assert their rights within the jurisdiction of the Algerian government, but have made little progress, according to Mehenni.

“Lacking means for an armed resistance, our generation has opted for political combat, and we produced the ‘Berber Spring’ in 1980,” he said. “This was a cultural, linguistic initially, because we saw that there was an ‘Arabist’ steamroller on the children in our schools, and since we began a long pacifist walk toward our existence.”

Believing that a democratic government might resolve their problem, the Kabylians were hopeful when a multiparty electoral system fell in place, but the powers of the Islamic regime still held stronger, according to Mehenni.

In 1994, Kabylians took part in an academic boycott stretching from kindergarten to university demanding that their language be recognized, an operation that worked but still did not land Kabylie official administrative recognition, he explained.

“Kabylie has invested in its identity quest, but never was a stronghold for Islam,” Mehenni said. “In 1990, while in Algeria, we observed an Islamist tidal wave; in Kabylie, there hasn’t been a single Islamist official.”

For quite some time, Kabylie remained the “Switzerland of Algeria,” but in 1997 the Algerian army came to an accord with the Islamists and attacks moved to Kabylie, inflicting the region with disruption and chaos, Mehenni explained.

Algeria, meanwhile, does not invest a single dinar in Kabylian development, and even discourages businesses from locating in Kabylie, where the country advocates “Arabization,” he said.

Since Abdelaziz Bouteflika came to power in Algeria in 1999, Kabylie has boycotted legislative and presidential elections.

While Kabylians have remained the backbone of the Algerian administration, they have been removed from all senior positions, and in the army, they are forced to retire before they can gain access to positions of responsibility, Mehenni asserted.

Kabylian women do not wear veils, and Kabylians living in France did not participate in the campaign for legalizing veils in schools, according to Mehenni.

Rather, he said, Kabylians have become quickly enamored by France’s values, including secularism and freedom.

Kabylie has always been engaged in the cause of Algeria, but has always been rejected by the state and now only strives for independence precisely due to this rejection, Mehenni stressed.

Calling the current Algerian country a “rogue state,” Mehenni said the country remains a haven for Islamic terrorism and is in danger of becoming a second “Iran” – a nation with which it shares strong relations since 1995.

Algeria desires a nuclear bomb for itself, and Bouteflika has constructed twice as many mosques during his terms as president than have been built during all of Algeria’s history, he continued. While most countries agree that Kabylie’s situation is one of injustice, many shy away from its defense because of Algeria’s vast oil and gas wealth, according to Mehenni.

“The environment of Israel is more favorable to Kabylie,” he said, stressing the fact that all of the Arab governments in the region favor Algeria and do not side with the Kabylian people. “We definitely hope that the ostracism of the Kabilye government will be repealed by most of the Arab countries in the region.”

Prior to his visit to Israel – his first ever – Mehenni said he was received by the US State Department, the Greek senate and the European Parliament.

Mehenni’s ministers are also all in exile, scattered around what he calls the “diaspora” – Canada, the UK, Germany and Italy.

“By building links, there is recognition,” he said.

During his stay in Israel, Mehenni met with MK Danny Danon (Likud), a representative from the Foreign Ministry’s North African division and Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau, among others. He described Landau as “very attentive” to what he and international relations minister, Lyazid Abid, presented him.

Kabylie is a region with many mountains and huge amounts of water, so Mehenni said it was a great opportunity to meet with a government minister that manages a complex water system.

Landau could not be reached for comment before press time on Sunday.

Mehenni said that he and his people would continue to pursue a “defiance to the Algerian law, which wants Israel to be boycotted,” and stressed that he hopes “our relations can be intensified.”

While traveling in Israel, Mehenni said he and Abid found a realization of their dream, allowing them to leave with the conviction that Israel should adopt Kabylie as a sister.

“Freedom for Kabylie, eternity for Israel,” he said.
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