Evangelicalism meets quest for Berber identity in Kabylia

Conversion from Islam to Protestantism in Kabylia (an area of northern Algeria) fits with the region’s cultural and political claims for autonomy, writes Hamida Azouani-Rekkas (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris) in Multitudes (No. 95, Summer). The Kabyle people are one of the Berber (Amazigh) groups of North Africa. Starting from cultural and linguistic claims (Arabic being considered the national and official language) in the 1980s, some Kabyle people have gone further with aspirations for autonomy and even independence. Conversions to evangelicalism occur across Algeria, which has an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 converts. In a country where the preamble of the constitution states that Islam is the cement of national identity, converting to Christianity has political implications. In the case of Kabylia, it gets associated with identity issues. Kabyle Christians started creating associations of their own and producing printed and audiovisual material in their language, thus participating in the promotion of a Kabyle culture. Some Kabyle evangelicals started to promote a Christian Berber identity. “They propose Amazigh Christianity as an alternative to Arab Islam.” Thus, for the converts, structuring a Christian identity and an Amazigh identity go along with each other.

Source: Center for Middle Eastern Studies (https://www.orsam.org.tr/en/algerian-berber-separatist-movementthreat-to-national-unity-and-territory-integrity/).

Following popular protests in 2019 and 2020 across Algeria, the country’s military leaders have attempted to maintain control in Kabylia in the background, with accusations of separatism and interference from foreign powers. Although evangelicals had been little involved in the protests, they offered a prime target for repressive measures, even more so since their legal status is fragile due to hurdles in getting permissions for opening Christian places of worship. Irritated by evangelical missionary activities, “since the early 2000s, state representatives have been tirelessly trying to make Catholicism the only legitimate branch of Christianity,” since the Roman Catholic Church does not actively evangelize Muslims in Algeria (proselytism toward Muslims is illegal in the country). Algerian evangelicals have reacted by emphasizing demands for pluralism, something to which progressives in the country should seem to be sympathetic. However, a hindrance to such sympathy lies in the fact that some of the Berber evangelical faithful not only support the independence movement but are influenced by Christian Zionist ideas and support recognizing the State of Israel. Kabyle’s supporters of independence have indeed turned to Israel in search of support, emphasizing similarities between the fate of the Jewish people and their own. However, evangelical converts’ religious understanding of current political developments has increased suspicions that they are tools of foreign powers, especially the U.S.

(Multitudes, https://www.multitudes.net/category/l-edition-papier-en-ligne/95-multitudes-95-ete-2024/)