(photo credit: Courtesy)
Algeria has created its first official Jewish association, which will be headed by a prominent Algerian Jewish lawyer.
The establishment of the association is in accordance with a 2006 law on non-Muslim religions, which mandated that all non-Muslim religions should have representation from accredited associations.
Mohamed Fellahi, the Algerian minister for Religious Affairs, appointed Roger SaÃ¯d, a lawyer from the Bilda region, to act as the representative of the Jewish community in a religious and cultural capacity.
In Algeria, Jews are scarce and difficult to account for. There are no official records on the number of Jews living in the country: speculations range anywhere from eight to under 1,000. While there are twenty-five registered synagogues in Algeria, there has been no official effort to compile data on their congregants.
Many Algerians see the creation of an official association as a part of several positive developments by the Algerian government over the last few years in regard to Jews.
Those who left Algeria when Jews were affected by significant tension have noted that the situation has greatly improved.
"When I traveled to Algeria, I went there freely, without any kind of constraint," Bernard Haddad, Algerian native and founder of L'Association MÃ©moire Active BÃ´noise, told The Media Line. "I was able to move around freely, without being questioned."
Mr. Haddad's organization is based in France and deals primarily with the protection and preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Algeria.
There have been several problems with vandalism in Jewish cemeteries in Algeria, and as the number of Jews in Algeria dwindles, there are fewer people to advocate for the preservation of Jewish heritage in the country.
When asked if he saw improvement in the situation of Jews in Algeria, Haddad replied, "Absolutely. I recently went to Algeria; I met certain people like the Wali, the mayor of the town that I visited. I can assure you that for all of the needs of the Jewish cemeteries in Algeria, I was welcomed."
Of his visit, he said, "I can assure you that I only saw positive things. There are many cemeteries in Algeria that have been restored, and new discoveries help in their preservation."
Jews have long had a tenuous relationship with Algeria and when given the opportunity, many left the country for France. The three main waves of migration to France were in 1870, when 40,000 Algerian Jews were granted citizenship under the Crimeaux degree; after Algeria gained independence in 1962; and in the late 1980s, when Muslim fundamentalism became a prominent phenomenon.