AlgiersApril 27 in Algeria
Had it not been on the itinerary for our world cruise, I probably would not have come to Algeria. However, I am very glad we came.
Much of the time allotted to our excursion was spent at the Independence Memorial in Algiers. I was struck with how so many things called attention—how many comments from our guide, and how many signs, parks, buildings and institutions—all called attention to the War for Independence that ended with the expulsion of the French in 1962.
I remember that war. I remember following it on television. I remember the intense partisanship shown not only by native Algerian Muslims, but also by the French. On one hand, Algeria belongs to Algerians. On the other hand since the 1830’s Algeria was not merely a French colony; it was actually part of France. The three provinces of Algeria were actually three French states, like Bordeaux or Provence or Alsace. The result in the 1950’s and 60’s was intense guerrilla warfare not only by the Arabs, but also by the French. When the French government under President Coty couldn’t handle the situation in 1958, Parliament, in an extraordinary move, called General Charles DeGaulle out of his twelve-year retirement to keep France whole. Yet by 1959 DeGaulle saw the handwriting on the wall and said that Algeria must be independent. Four French generals then staged the Algiers Putsch of 1961 in which they attempted to foment another French Revolution. They wanted to topple the French government and imprison DeGaulle. They landed paratroopers in Algiers, sent paratroopers to Paris, and intended to take over all of France. DeGaulle stopped them. When it was all over 1.5 million people were dead in a struggle for independence that lasted from 1954 until 1962.
Since then Algeria has struggled, first, as a republic. Corruption killed it. Then in a relatively free election the Islamic Salvation Front came to power in 1991. It decreed that Algeria was a theocracy with no ruler but Allah. Arts, music, and education were squelched, as in other nations ruled by Islamists. They cancelled all future elections. The people wouldn’t have this, so another long civil war ensued. Some 200,000 people were killed. As a result, Algeria is no lover of political Islamism. Algerians have been there; done that; and got the T-shirt.
Abdelaziz Boutaflika was elected President in 1999, and has removed from the Constitution the two-term limit for the office of President. So now Algeria has a dictator. Still, he may be doing some good. This police state is now stable. He has made several Presidential decrees calling for such things as equal rights for women, religious freedom for all Algerians, and an end to discrimination based on race, creed or color. It is of interest to note that there is a Catholic Church here left over from the French that still has a small congregation of Christians. In the church, Notre Dame d’Afrique, there is an inscription saying, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us Christians and for the Muslims.”
Now Boutaflika is even encouraging free enterprise and entrepreneurship. These changes look to me very much like the state capitalism now advocated by the Chinese government.
Algeria is not a free nation. The police led our bus procession through the streets today. We could not leave our guide. We could not even walk on the pier where our ship is docked. Algeria is still struggling. The people here are wonderful. They waved happily at our busses. We are the first big passenger ship in here since a spate of violence occurred about a year ago. Algerians are glad to see tourists again. Algerians want desperately to be a nation—a real nation, with commerce and education and art and culture and a history of something other than bloodshed. However, there is a part of the Algerian people that just seems tired. Tired of the violence. Tired of being used. I pray that their spark of hope has not died out completely.
Coming here today was not so much entertaining as is was educational. Though I would not have chosen Algeria as a destination, I am very glad we came to this beautiful place to meet these lovely people. And I pray that God will be kind to them. Lord knows, they deserve some peace.Read more