Last week, at least 22 Algerians died in clashes between ethnic Arabs and Berbers in the oasis city of Ghardaia, where tensions have grown for the last two years between the two communities over jobs, housing and land. In an email interview, Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, a research analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center, discussed ethnic violence in Algeria.
WPR: What are the reasons behind the violent clashes between Arabs and Berbers in recent years?
Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck: The conflict between the Arabs and Berbers in Algeria dates back to 1975, when clashes broke out between the two communities for unknown reasons. Clashes broke out again a decade later in 1985 and have since become a regular occurrence. There were clashes in 1991 in Berriane, in 2004 in Beni Isguene, in 2008 and 2009 in Ghardaia, and sporadically during 2014 and more recently in July 2015. Some claim that the reasons for the conflict are confessional—the Mozabite Berbers are Ibadi Muslims, and the Chaamba Arabs follow the Maliki school of Sunni Islam. Others say the conflicts are caused by ethnic tensions between Berbers and Arabs. However, these two communities have been coexisting for centuries in peace.