Behind Algeria's Iranian book ban

Behind Algeria's Iranian book ban
3 min read
Blog: Fears of Iranian influences sparking sectarian divisions in Algeria are unlikely to stop future cooperation between Algiers and Tehran, writes Habibulah Lamin.
Iranian books were banned at Algeria's prominent book fair [Getty]

Algeria's 2017 International Book Fair was distinguished by its ban on Iranian publications, which "incite sectarianism and violence and contradict the Maliki doctrine, which is followed by the majority of the Algerian people", according to the book fair manager, as reported by Asharq-Al-Awsat.

Malikia is a product of Imam Malik's understanding of the Prophet Mohammed's career and is referenced as a standard for religious judgments in Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco.

The moderate path has been adopted by Algeria's Zawya, which control most religious institutions in the country. The Zawya prospered after the black decade when religious extremism left thousands dead in a civil war.

Aside from the book-banning, Iran-Algeria relations have been strong.

Both countries share the same strategic ally. Algeria is a major importer of Russian military exports. Also part of the Russian axis, Iran was leaning on the giant bear during the struggle to reach the Iranian nuclear deal - which has been repeatedly welcomed by Algeria.

Aside from the book-banning, Iran-Algeria relations have been strong

Iran and Algeria are among the world's top 20 oil exporters, but commercial cooperation has not yet lived up to the two countries' potential. While Iran has been warming its reations with European nations, especially after Trump took office, Algeria could be Iran's lost link to Africa.

Sectarian barriers, however, seem to limit Iran's capacity to attract new allies in North Africa. The mostly Sunni region has been distancing itself from sectarian violence to maintain peace - Algeria particularly is keen to avoid any repeat of the 1990s era and any possible unrest in the future.

This concern may go some way to explain the prohibition of Iranian books which officials fear could ignite divisions within Algerian society.

On the other hand, Iran's focus on sectarianism has left fewer options for Algeria to seek a stronger alliance with Tehran. Iran has included building mosques in Algeria among available trade opportunities.

Thus, it is evident that Iran and Algeria's limitations to overcome their differences has been politically ignored by Iran to avoid a clash with Algeria, pinning hopes that they could find a common ground under Russian-related interests.

Saudi Arabia's relations with Algeria deteriorated early in 2016 over the Arab League classifying Hizballah as a terrorist group

But the unfolding events suggest that Saudi Arabia's creeping towards the Russian camp could spark a desire in Iran for more Russian-affiliated partners to have the upper hand at the Kremlin.

While Algeria shares Sunni doctrines with Saudi Arabia, the two governments have never been on the same page. Saudi Arabia's relations with Algeria deteriorated early in 2016 over the Arab League classifying Hizballah as a terrorist group.

Algeria's banning of Iranian books and Saudi Arabia's accusation against Lebanon declaring war on the kingdom  took place at around the same time.

Algeria's politics of neutrality will play an important role. By distancing itself from both Saudi Arabia and Iran, Algeria could keep the door open - albeit likely with a slighter preference to Iran which shares the same ideology of independence, unlike Saudi Arabia which heavily depends on the US, especially with Trump in the White House.

The US has been favouring Moroccan relations over Algerian due to Russia's historical presence in Algeria and continuing military cooperation.

These factors make Saudi Arabia less important to Algeria than Iran, which remains a partner with greater potential for Algeria, despite undeniable longstanding limitations.

Habibulah Mohamed Lamin is a journalist formerly based in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. He has worked as a translator and is director of Equipe Media Branch, a group of media activists covering Western Sahara. His work focuses on the politics and culture of the Maghreb.

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