Attacks on bars multiply in Algeria
By Nazim Fethi for Magharebia in Algiers – 15/02/12
Nearly 2,000 pubs and other alcoholic drink outlets have been closed in Algeria in the past three years, particularly in the Algiers area, according to a source from the alcoholic beverage producers' association.
In Tizi Ouzou, ten orders to shut down pubs were enforced by the police in September alone. In the capital, the authorities unleashed a real war on bars and pubs. The official reasons cited have been hygiene concerns and failure to comply with regulations governing the trade.
Algiers wali Mohamed Kebir Addou insisted the closures were normal and not evidence of the authorities overstepping their powers. He also downplayed the significance of Islamist influence on the government's decision.
"There has never been any suggestion from within the administration that we are giving in to blackmail to close an establishment if the owner is abiding by the current laws, especially if the reason behind it is some kind of engineered religious consideration," he said.
But Algerian Association of Drinks Producers (APAB) chief Ali Hamani suggested that the decision to crack down on alcohol sales had been "driven by public campaigners".
Algerian Islamists have recently redoubled their morality campaigning efforts, buoyed by their counterparts' successes in the region.
Thirty per cent of Algiers mosques have fallen under Salafists' control, an official from the religious affairs ministry told Magharebia on the condition of anonymity.
"The battle launched by the Salafist movement to take possession of the mosques is such that rigorous controls are needed," he said. "Salafist imams are well and truly in control of a number of mosques. Imams who have never been declared Salafists but whose convictions have subsequently come to light."
Former Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) founder El Hachemi Sahnouni, along with Abdelfatah Zeraoui Hamadache, called on young people in working class districts to take action.
"The number of crimes is increasing all the time, brawls are constantly increasing in number between those drinking alcohol and the decent people who live in the area," Sahnouni and Hamadache wrote in a statement released last October.
The two present themselves as being behind the "Awakening of the children of Algerian Mosques" initiative.
"We support and encourage district committees to start up more petitions and establish a raft of demands to present to the authorities, so that they can demand the complete closure of shops selling alcohol, which are contrary to the Prophet's religious teaching," said those behind the appeal.
Sahnouni, however, dismissed rumours that he was working with Hamadache to encourage district committees to rebel against bars and nightclubs in urban areas.
Meanwhile, APAB chief Hamani argued that tougher measures against public alcohol venues would backfire by encouraging informal trade.
"For every pub or bar which closes, three illegal drinking dens will spring up," Hamani warned. "Illegal sales are a real danger where alcohol is concerned. We need to control this activity within a formal framework. In an illegal drinking den, you'll also find prostitution and many other illegal activities. Illegal activities will cost us dearly."
"We're all in favour of regulating the trade, but it should not turn into an anti-alcohol campaign," Hamani said.
He wondered why the government, which had "facilitated the opening of bars" during the Black Decade, would discourage them now.
"Algeria is not ready to give in to blackmail from the Islamists, for the simple reason that the country has had a bitter experience of political Islamism and the Algerian people are not about to forget what they endured because of those people," said Workers' Party chairwoman Louisa Hanoune.
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