One morning in September 2019, a woman marched alone through the center of Algiers, walked in front of a line of police officers, and screamed for the removal of the now-deceased General Ahmed Gaid Salah, hours before the main anti-government march that afternoon. .
Back in June 2019, Gaid outlawed the Berber flag that belongs to the Berber Kabyles, or Berbers. Following this decree, there were dozens of arrests for waving it alongside the national flag during the Hirak protests, a popular uprising that emerged in February 2019 in opposition to then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was running for a fifth term.
“This woman faced two things: in the morning, there are more arrests and it is unimaginable to talk about Gaid,” said Meziane Abane, a journalist who filmed the woman. He posted the video on the Facebook page of his news website, L'Avant-Garde Algérie (Algerian authorities have blocked the website).
Moments later, the insults came. Comments like “you are the residue of France”, “France is your mother”, and “son of France” flooded the comments section. In one day, the video had a million views and countless comments.
Those who come from the Kabyl region are often associated with France, the country of which Algeria was a colony. Online trolls use online insults to attack and accuse the Kabyles of being separatists who threaten “national unity.”
“It was there that I understood the power (of these online trolls),” Abane said in a telephone interview with Global Voices. “I was wondering when they were going to stop. Are they going to stop? And they stopped at six in the morning! ”
Abane itself is from the city of Bouïra in Cabiria, a mountainous region that borders the Mediterranean Sea where Berbers live. The comments – rooted in a political battle – specifically target Rabbis' Kabyle activists.
The Kabylia region has been central to the Hirak movement. After Bouteflika left office in April, the movement continued to protest every Tuesday and Friday to demand a review of the system (until March when there was a “pause” for public health reasons by COVID-19).
In December, Hirak activists boycotted the national elections. Near to 40% of the population voted nationally, while parts of Kabylia had an abstention rate close to 100%.
Racism targeting Kabyle activists and citizens is not new, but the force of this rhetoric intensified in 2019, according to Abane.
History of the ‘zuavo’ insult
Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni who reported the protests Hirak was sentenced to eight months in prison in April on charges of inciting and “attacking national unity”. In an interview to Global Voices in 2019 he said that his reports on Hirak had “copy and paste” comments that accused him of working for France, that he was paid by the French and called him zuavo.
The word zuavo refers to a group of Algerians from Kabylia recruited by France during their occupation of Algeria to be part of a light infantry unit to work for the French Army since 1830, said Ouissal Harize, a doctoral student at Durham University that investigates violence as a colonial legacy in Algeria.
There are contradictory accounts on the etymological origin of the term. Harize traced it back to the word kabylia. izouf which means “to throw”. But he says the term could also come from a bad Arabic pronunciation. agawaw, name of a confederation of Kabylia tribes.
Around 1860, other armies also named their infantry regiments as Zuavos. European painters such as Vincent Van Gogh chose the Zuavos as a popular subject for portraits, added Ouissal Harize.
Although the presence of the Kabylia in the French Army can be verified, the term is “now used to attack and insult the Kabyles, and is now used as a means of racialization,” Harize explained.
“It is an ideological battle between Arab nationalists and Berber movements,” explained Nacer Djabi, professor at the University of Algiers:
The Arab nationalists call people from Kabylie zouaves to say that they were with colonization at the start, (in order) to create a complex for the Kabyle people who present themselves as great revolutionaries during the war for independence. It is a manipulation of national history for contemporary politics.
Arab nationalists call people from the Zuavo Kabyles to say that they were with colonization from the beginning, (to) create a complex for Kabyles who portray themselves as great revolutionaries during the war for independence. It is a manipulation of national history for contemporary politics.
‘Hate speech, toxic’
Currently, the trolls take this historical discourse around the meaning and definition of the Zuavo and create a conspiracy that the Hirak movement “is led by a Franco-Berber lay elite, trying to navigate the movement,” said Redouane Boudjema, professor of media and communications of the University of Algiers.
Boudjema said false information has been spread about important historical Kabyle figures, such as Hocine Aït Ahmed, commander of the first guerrillas to fight the colonial government and part of the provisional government after independence before resigning and creating Algeria's first opposition party.
Fake news about Algerian history is used to feed a hateful, toxic discourse against a region (Kabylie), which was always at the vanguard of the struggle for democratic transition.
Fake news with Algerian history is used to fuel a hate speech, toxic against a region (Kabylia), which was always at the forefront of the struggle for the democratic transition.
In the course of the past year, the current regime has manipulated this anti-Kabyle speech to try to weaken the Hirak movement.
I know recognize to “Berber-ness” as one of the fundamental components of Algerian identity in the Constitution and the authorities have taken steps in recent years to integrate the Berber culture: Tamazight was established as an official language in 2016 and the first month of Berber year –yannayer— It was designated as a public holiday in 2018.
Despite this, in June 2019, as the Hirak protesters marched, Gaid suppressed Berber expressions by outlawing his flag and arresting those who were waving it.
“Discrimination against Kabylia existed long before February 22, and it was on an institutional level,” said Kader Houali, a lawyer and human rights activist at Tizi Ouzou in Kabylia, noting how long it took after independence for the recognition of the language. But he added that this type of discrimination exists in society, and in the system, and is fueled by some journalists and public figures.
Houali and two other lawyers filed a complaint against Naima Salhi, chairman of the Equality and Proclamation Party (PEP), for “inciting racial hatred and calling for the murder of Kabyl citizens.” She is one of several politicians and journalists who “attack everything that is different (which is neither Arab nor Islamic),” she said.
Salhi uses the Facebook page of his political party to publish video with calls to citizens “to marginalize the Kabylia and execute what they call Zuavos and the 'community of the devil”, it is a call to death and violence “, Houali said. He added that young bloggers post similar calls, he said.
In a video released in late 2019, Salhi said the Kabylia are not Algerians but “immigrants” who descend from the Vandals. In the video, he said it was a shame that “Algerians let these dogs do what they want.”
In another video, recorded just after the death of Salah on December 23, 2019, Salhi warned: “Beware of this dangerous group and its flag.”
In a series of derogatory comments, he referred to councils as Jews and said, “That's why we don't get along with you.” He also called the outlawed Berber flag as the “Zuava flag.”
Although there is no official law outlawing racial or regional discrimination, Houali hopes they can apply the section of the Penal Code that prohibits “threats to national unity,” which, ironically, is the same law that was used to arrest protesters. for waving the Berber flag.
Abane believes that the campaign against the Zuaves has managed to demobilize some Hirak protesters. “This is the negation of the other. It is racism mainly, they target people from Kabylia and there is no action, neither from Facebook nor from the Algerian judicial system, ”he said.
For now, all you can do is filter the repeated name calling on your Facebook page, but that hasn't stopped the trolls, bypassing the filter and flooding comments with a name change.