One of my friends cruelly called her husband ‘billy-no-mates’ when they were having a row. Sadly, that’s how some Algerians see their country.
It’s true that Algeria has a poor reputation in the West. If they even know where it is on the map, people think of the throat slitting, monk-murdering décennie noire (black decade) of the 1990s when at least 200,000 people died after the army annulled elections. It’s a difficult country to visit. The visas are expensive and can be hard to arrange. The tourist infrastructure is only slowly recovering after years of civil war. And English is not that widely spoken. So there are plenty of reasons people can give for giving the country a wide berth. In the Algerian comedy Délice Paloma, the lead character and ageing prostitute Madame Algeria is asked if anyone loves Algeria. “Of course not, we are always the mal-aimés (unloved).” This is such as pity, as Algeria has so much to offer.
Going back to the billy no mates comment, I am not great at mixing in large social gatherings. But I was always taught by my parents that it is good manners if you see someone else on their own in a party to befriend them. I have rarely regretted the advice, because apparently friendless people are often the most interesting. The same could be said for countries like Algeria that can have unexpected riches.
However, there are several other good reasons for learning more about Algeria:
- It’s the largest country in Africa.
- It’s got huge reserves of oil and gas and is the world’s fourth largest exporter of gas.
- It has close links with some of the UK’s largest companies such as BP.
- It’s got a population of 40 million.
- Many of the 5 million Muslims who live in France are of Algerian origin.
- It has some of the best preserved Roman cities in the world.
- In Roman times it was prosperous and highly developed.
- It has stunning beaches and natural landscapes almost unvisited by English-speaking foreigners.
- For over 132 years it was part of France, and links between the two countries are strong.
Finally, another little factoid. It is the only country apart from Greenland and the tiny island of St. Barthélémy that so far has successfully left the EU. Though in Algeria’s case it ceased to be part of the fore-runner of the EU, the European Economic Community (EEC) when it gained independence.