Algeria: Alcohol, premier gives in to pressure by Salafites

Government freezes document on liberalization sales

04 May, 11:36

    Algeria: Alcohol, premier gives in to pressure by Salafites Algeria: Alcohol, premier gives in to pressure by Salafites

    (by Diego Minuti)  - ROME - Algerian Premier Abdelmalek Sellal's decision to freeze a document with which Trade Minister Amara Benyounés liberalized alcoholic beverages, highlights the uncertainties looming over the cabinet, also due to the health of President Bouteflika, hampering its authority.

    The document, ever since it was issued, was strongly opposed by the Salafites who took to the streets to protest against it.

    Although bureaucracy was cited as a reason (the lack of involvement of other ministers), it is the political aspect to prevail as the government has displayed weakness in this case.

    Although it can still backtrack on its decision, what appears off-key is that the decision follows pressure from a religious group that is a fundamentalist minority in a State that claims to be secular. It could not be otherwise as Algeria has confronted a bloody civil war when Islamists gained power legally (through elections).

    Alcohol is a very delicate matter because, for its nature, it mingles religion with the freedom of individuals. Algeria, while claiming it is secular, does not evade lobbying tactics by Islamists, who are heard by the government. Benyounés said he has been a victim of ''horrible media lynching'' by broadcasters close to Islamic movements. The minister described these attacks as unjustified as he is neither ''an imam, nor a mufti but a minister of the Republic''.

    It would thus be wrong to describe the incident as a dispute between those in favour and against alcohol and its consumption.

    What is clear is that its use risks becoming a bone of contention between those pursuing with determination the impartiality of the State in front of religion and others who would like it to be influenced - or even serving - the needs of Islam.

    Indeed minister Benyounés has been accused of ''conducting a war against God'' with that document. The controversy over the measure is raging on also because alcohol consumption in Algeria does not only concern a small part of the population. Algeria (40 million inhabitants, almost entirely Sunnis), last year imported alcoholic beverages for a value of 82 million dollars, 40% more than two years before. And most of the imports - something that Benyounés wanted to confront with the document - were sold on the informal market, evading taxes. (ANSAmed)

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