Charlie Hebdo in One Country: Media Reactions in Algeria

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The attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s staff and the subsequent hostage-taking in Porte de Vincennes were well-covered in Algerian media. Algerian news outlets also closely followed reprisal attacks on mosques and Muslim communities within the country.

Algerian officials quickly condemned the killings, and President Bouteflika emphasized his government’s “commitment to combatting terrorism.” Foreign Minister Ramtame Lamamra announced his participation in a January 11 anti-terrorism rally in Paris, while underscoring that the Kouachi brothers were not Algerian citizens and had never visited the country.

Algerian politicians such as Abdel Qader Hadoush, the Member of Parliament responsible for Algerian expatriates in the south of France, emphasized distinctions between Algerian citizens and French citizens of Algerian origin, as well as between violent extremists and mainstream Muslim communities in Europe.

The most extreme reaction came from fringe figures such as fugitive terrorist Mukhtar Belmukhtar, who praised the attacks and encouraged more like them in France and the West, in remarks reported by Echerouk

The Algerian media discussion also focused on Charlie Hebdo’s history of publishing satirical cartoons about Islam and other religions and authority figures. ElKhabar’s story entitled “Charlie Hebdo Pays the Price for ‘Sharia Hebdo’,” referenced an issue the magazine ran in 2011 satirizing aspects of Islam.

Ennahar television’s initial coverage described Charlie Hebdo as part of a “campaign of provocation” against Muslim communities in Europe, though Algerian cartoonist Ghilas Ainouche reflected positively on his internship with the weekly. Abdou Semmar, one of the leading columnists on Algerie Focus, attempted to rebut conspiracy theories that claimed the attacks had been staged or carried out by French or foreign intelligence services.

Other commentators condemned what they called double standards in international and regional reactions to the terrorist attacks. Coverage of the Paris march in Echorouk entitled “Shame on You, Arab Leaders!” criticized Arab leaders for expressing solidarity with French victims while remaining silent over hundreds of thousands of Arabs killed or displaced in conflicts around the region. Commentary highlighted the participation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the march as well as the lack of equivalent solidarity over last summer’s fighting in Gaza.

Algerian media criticisms of Charlie Hebdo intensified after the January 14 publication of a new issue on  featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. Echerouk’s edition for the day included a front-page cartoon in which protesters demonstrating against intervention in Mali, Libya, Syria and Iraq are crushed by a tank – for “when the matter relates to Arabs.” Echerouk news station produced a 6-hour series on the cartoons entitled “I am Muhammad – No to Terrorism and No to Insulting Religions.”

The small French-language daily Quotidien d’Oran devoted much of its January 15th edition to the subject, under the headline “Charlie Hebdo: Oil on the Flames.” Writer M’hammedi Bouzina urged solidarity with victims in France regardless of the circumstances. In response, journalist Boudjan Hadj-Chikh emphasized the need to extend that solidarity to promote values of liberty, equality, and fraternity around the world.

Algeria experienced large protests over the issue of Charlie Hebdo on January 16th. Islamist leaders Ali Belhadj and Hamadache Zeraoui were detained for organizing a march in the capital of Algiers, where protests are banned. Muhammad Issa, minister for religious affairs and endowments, made it clear that the protests had no official backing from the state’s religious leaders.

Algerie Focus writer Abdou Semmar, while defending Algerians’ right to protest, expressed concern over reports that protestors chanted in support of ISIS and referred to the Kouachi brothers as “martyrs.” He also accused the Algerian regime of encouraging such extremist views through repression.

Aya Makki contributed to this post.