Anti-Semitic Protests Rage in Algeria Against Synagogue Plans
Salafists protested on Friday against government plans to reopen synagogues which were closed for security reasons during Algeria's civil war of the 1990s.
After weekly Friday prayers at Al-Mouminine mosque in the poor Belcourt district of Algiers, dozens of worshippers tried to march in the streets but were blocked by police, an AFP journalist reported.
"No to the Judaization of Algeria!" and "Muslim Algeria!" were among slogans chanted by the Islamist demonstrators, who also condemned Israel's defensive operation in Gaza.
They were responding to a call by Salafist leader Abdelfatah Hamadash to oppose the mooted reopening of synagogues, which he said would pave the way for "a normalization of relations between Algeria and Israel."
The North African country's Jewish population, which numbered around 130,000 when a war of independence from France broke out in 1954, is today just a tiny fraction of that number, although no official figures are available.
The vast majority fled during the war, and those who remained were targeted by hardline Islamists during the bloody decade of civil strife, when two of their leaders were assassinated and synagogues closed.
Religious Affairs Minister Mohamed Aissa said last week that the Jewish community had "the right to exist," indicating its synagogues would eventually be reopened.
"There is a Jewish community in our country that is well accepted by Algerian society. It has the right to exist," he said, describing the community's leader as a "patriot".
He said, however, the reopening of synagogues was not likely soon, adding that "a place of worship must be made safe before it can be opened to the faithful."
Islamist movements in North Africa have grown considerably in the past several years, with the ouster of autocratic secular leaders in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt allowing them to operate more freely, and with lawlessness in countries such as Mali allowing Al Qaeda to gain a foothold.
Also on Friday, in Morocco - another North Africa country that has managed to avoid a popular uprising - the rabbi of the Jewish community of Casablanca was subjected to a vicious anti-Semitic assault by a Muslim extremist, as passersby ignored his pleas for help.
Algeria has managed to weather the storm of unrest that has rocked its neighbors so far, but has also seen radical Muslim groups attempt to make gains among the population.