Language and Conflict: Kabylia and the Algerian State

Led by Naima Mouhleb
Jan 2005 - Dec 2005
MA thesis in Arabic at the University of Oslo.
PRIO supervisor: Gunvor Mejdell, UiO and Åshild Kolås, CSCW

Aim and hypotheses
The aim of this thesis is to try to establish to what extent the 2001 popular insurgency in Kabylia, Algeria was ethnically motivated, or if it rather should be seen as a conflict that underwent an ethnicizing process. In an interview with African Geopolitics, Hugh Roberts was asked a question that seems appropriate here; was it a Kabyle revolt or was the revolt in Kabylia because they traditionally are highly organized politically? (Roberts, 2003: 292).

If findings show that the conflict more likely was ethnically motivated, then it is important to establish in what manner ethnicity influenced the insurgency, in order to determine what type of ethnic conflict one could be looking at. Another possible finding is whether there are plausible grounds to see the conflict as related to issues regarding political legitimacy and debates on Algerian nationalism. If the latter turns out to be probable, then one could perhaps see the ethnic element more as a reflex of the socio-political issues and not as the direct cause of conflict.

Methodological sketch
Most of the collected data will focus on the 2001 popular insurgency in Kabylia, attempting to distinguish the role of ethnicity in onset and organization of the conflict as it progressed. One aim is to try to see whether ethnic grievances should be seen as the main motivations or perhaps rather issues regarding political legitimacy and a debate on Algerian nationalism. Another aim is to establish the role language issues can have in a conflict and how such issues can influence inter-ethnic relations. The reason for using primary sources is to discuss the internal perspective on categorizations of the conflict and those participating.

Language and socio-political conflict needs the input of multidisciplinary approaches in order to present a fuller picture. As a framework I will use conflict and civil war theory in order to explain the more universal causes and mechanisms of conflict. I will discuss the role of ethnicity in regard to risk of conflict onset and what it does mean that a conflict is organized ethnically as opposed to ethnically motivated conflict. I will discuss theoretical notions regarding internal versus external categorization from the field of social psychology, in relation to these conflict theories. I will use a sociolinguistic approach in combination with an analysis of statements made regarding the conflict, in order to enable an understanding of the mechanisms and dynamics of the conflict, seen from an internal perspective. However, the relationship may not necessarily be so linear. Ethnic motivation may be a factor that can rise and fall within a conflict, likewise the sociopolitical factors. This would be significant for determining how to categorize such conflicts, in their different phases, and avoid unnecessary ethnicizing.

A short historical outline, especially of the conflicts since independence, is needed in order to place the 2001 conflict in the country historical context. Also, I wish to lay out a few political and social issues, such as political reforms and economic development, in order to discuss the relevance of the role of these issues in the conflict. Likewise, a short presentation of the cultural make up of seems prudent in order to understand the nature of the ethnic composition and the possibility of a wider national debate.

The main methodological approach I have chosen here is within the field of sociolinguistics. My definitions of ethnicity will be derived from this debate and this set of understanding. Please see the section below for an introduction to this. As data for the analysis I will use primary sources in Arabic and French, a few in Berber. One reason for this linguisitic focus is that in the Middle East language has come to play a prominent role in politics and religion. Both as link to an often idealized, common past and as a religious focus for legitimacy and authenticity. It is therefore necessary to examine the Arabization politics and the de facto linguistic situation in (Arabic H+L, Berber, French) and their impact on relevant language issues, and on the political role of language in . As I mentioned above, the approach will be social psychological and sociolinguistic, discussing first the relationship between ethnicity and language, and the role of language on interethnic relations, and secondly the role of language in .

Central terms in the material analyzed will provide a categorization of terms like ‘identity’, ‘politics’, ‘language politics’, and other terms of relevance. Another important point is who the actors are ‘we’-‘them’, or ‘the nation’, ‘the people’, and different ‘value-loaded’ vocabulary. I will also include the body of language laws and national definitions stated in the constitution. Hopefully the analysis of the primary material in combination with the secondary sources on language in relation to ethnicity, will enable a good basis for determining what importance ethnicity had for the outbreak of and sustaining the conflict. I will use these results in order to answer the key questions mentioned in the beginning whether one should see the conflict as motivated by ethnical elements or grievances, or rather as attaining an ethnic frame and ethnification as events progressed. To a certain degree I will compare the Tafsut Imazighen (1980 Kabyle revolt) and the 2001 Kabyle revolt, but main focus will be on the latter and the parties involved (government versus other actors). Who they were and what they represent, demands, answer to demands and political programs.



Non-refereed Journal Article

Mouhleb, Naima (2006) Autentisitet og konflikt i det post-koloniale Algerie [Authenticity and Conflict in Post Colonial Algeria], Babylon - tidsskrift om Midtøsten og Nord-Afrika 4(1): 76–83.

Book Review

Mouhleb, Naima (2005) Review of Islamistisk terrorisme, in Babylon - tidsskrift om Midtøsten og Nord-Afrika 3(2): 168–170.


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