The tragic attacks that took place in Algiers this week were surely aimed at debasing the prestige of the Algerian government, which is preparing to receive Mediterranean representatives and which has won the favor of most Western (and eastern) governments in its battle with al-Qaeda. While neither as magnanimous nor as strikingly successful as the major bombings in the capitol earlier this year, the twin suicide bombings by a military barracks is nevertheless a reminder of the constant threat posed to the country by Islamist militants. The bombing wounded six soldiers, and a day later an additional six were killed in Kabylia by a roadside bomb. An earthquake in Oran injured 15 people as well (Algeria has a bad track record of dealing with earthquakes, a natural phenomena it shares with much the rest of the Mediterranean, but is not able to put up with in the same manner because of its poverty and the inefficiency of its emergency response networks).
This seems to have prompted an Reuters story about the supposed hospitality of the people in Kabylia towards Islamists, who walk about their villages with impunity, so long as they leave the villagers in peace. Highlighting popular resentment towards the government and cultural distance between Kabyles and Arabs, the article is quite troubling. However, it must be said that while the Algiers government is especially unpopular in Kabylia, this does not mean (as the article leaves unstated) that the GSPC or GIA or QIM are necessarily popular in that region. The kind of apathy one sees in Kabylia is the result of a wider national malaise than it is of any sympathy for Islamist militants, and while villagers may turn a blind eye to the rebells, the moment they begin to impose their ideology on the villagers, or start to plunder shops without leaving any compensation (as opposed to leaving piles of money, as mentioned in the article), they dynamics shift. While many villagers allowed militants (others, if not most of them, were forced into that situation) to govern them during the Civil War, few who lived through that experience desire their return, and perhaps least of all the Kabyles who rarely collectively expressed sympathy for the FIS or its affiliates. That does not mean that they would necessarily rebel against them, though the Kabyles have a long history of doing just that against just about everyone, but they would probably begin to see more active cooperation with the government in tracking down militants in a different light, especially if the fighting were more intense. Still, I have to wonder to what degree the writer exaggerated the level of apathy, because, though I have not been in Kabylia for some time (the last time I went was to Tizi Ouzou in 03 or 04), and the people from the mountains I met and have subsequently met give a somewhat more nuanced view of peoples’ attitudes, especially the role that fear and the often brutal and humiliating abuses of the gendarmerie (which are somewhat brushed over in the article, very likely the result of censorship or guidance of some kind) have played in their silence and often complicity.