About 300 people in a restive northern region of Algeria joined a public lunch Saturday during Ramadan to protest what they say is persecution of people who refuse to observe the religious fast.The protest was sparked by the police treatment of three youth who were eating inside a cafeteria that was apparently open during the day. They got grilled by the police for daring to break the obligatory Islamic fast during Ramadan.
From TSA (Tout sur Algérie):
Des éléments de la gendarmerie ont fait irruption, vendredi vers 14h30, dans le village à la recherche des non-jeûneurs, a-t-on appris auprès de Malik, membre du comité du village de Tifra
« Les gendarmes sont entrés dans la cafétéria, qui ouvre durant la journée tout le mois du Ramadan. Nous étions assis tranquillement. Nous ne comprenons pas une telle action. Nous sommes libres de jeûner ou pas », témoigne-t-il. Selon différents témoignages que nous avons recueillis auprès des habitants de Tifra, les gendarmes auraient photographié tous les clients présents dans la cafétéria.
(We learned from Malik, a committee member of the village of Tifra that on Friday around 2:30pm, police elements burst into the village, searching for those who were not fasting.
"The police entered into the cafeteria, which opens during the day throughout the month of Ramadan. We were peacefully seated. We could not understand their actions. We are free to observe the fast or to abstain.", said Malik. According to the differing witness accounts we obtained from the local inhabitants, the police could have photographed all of the customers in the cafeteria.)From Washington Post coverage of the protest this action sparked:
It was held as a demonstration against the decision of security forces to question three young people who were eating outside last week last week in the Kabylie region during the 18-hour daily fasting period.The protest was a peaceful one with no interruption from the police or Islamist groups. The protesters themselves are part of the Kabyle people who reside in the Kabylie area in the north of the country. These people do not consider themselves to be Arab and tend to have a more secular outlook than other Algerians.
Apparently, in Algeria, you can be charged with a crime if you break the fast during the day and this is the very first ever protest of its kind in the country.
In previous years, Kabylie residents who refused to fast during the month of Ramadan faced charges of “acting against Islam.”But it wasn't always this way. Within my own lifetime, the Ramadan fast was considered a purely voluntary affair for those who's personal religious beliefs motivated them to participate in.
From RTL, which estimated more than 500 protesters:
Jusque dans les années 1980, dans les villes au moins, la société algérienne faisait preuve de plus de souplesse. Les restaurants étaient ouverts et ne jeûnaient que ceux qui le voulaient. Depuis le début des années 1990, nombre de partis d'opposition dénoncent "l'islamisation" de l'Algérie, accentuée par le Printemps arabe qui a eu lieu dans les pays voisins.
(Up to the 1980s, in the cities at least, Algerian society demonstrated more lenience. Restaurants remained open and fasting was considered a personal decision. Since the early 1990s, numerous opposition parties have denounced the "Islamization" of Algeria, accentuated by the Arab Spring which took place in neighbouring countries.)L'Orient-Le Jour quotes one of the protesters.
"Il y a un climat de terreur qui règne contre ceux qui ne jeûnent pas" durant le mois de jeûne sacré musulman du ramadan, dénonce à l'AFP l'un d'eux, Ali, la quarantaine, un technicien de cette ville kabyle située à 100 km d'Alger.
Tahar Bessalah, un entrepreneur en climatisation kabyle venu d'Alger, acquiesce. "Il faut que la religion reste du domaine du privé", dit-il en s'affirmant "musulman de tradition mais pas jeûneur".
( Ali, who is in his forties and is a technician in this Kabyle city situated some 100 km from Algiers, made the following statement to the AFP news agency. "There is a climate of terror which reigns against any who do not fast" [during the fast in the sacred Muslim month of Ramadan.]
Tahar Bassalah, a Kabele air-conditioner entrepreneur from Algiers, agrees. "Religion must remain in the personal domain." and he affirms himself to be "a cultural [traditional] Muslim but not one who fasts.")Of course, there is more here than a simple protest in support of the idea of secularism. There has been a deep and persistent political rift between those who identify themselves as culturally Kabyle and the government and surrounding people in the country. But still, it's events like this where we see secularism - or rather the lack of it manifest in real world events. This is when the rubber meets the pavement.
With Hemant Mehta's (Friendly Atheist) report on the Facebook protests against forced Ramadan fasting in Tunesia. And those Malaysian sex bloggers who did the same thing and ended up in jail. It seems like people trapped in authoritarian religious countries and fighting back however they can. In this case, they are using their food to send a message of defiance and a united demand for freedom.
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