Tuareg sentry at the Libya-Algeria border.
Tuareg sentry at the Libya-Algeria border.
Giacomo Tognini

TAMANRASSET — The rugged Hoggar mountains, stretching over an expanse of the Sahara desert in southern Algeria, are home to a large ethnic Tuareg population that has long been marginalized at the hands of the country's Arab majority. Algiers-based daily El Watan reports on a current dispute among Tuareg chiefs about how to challenge government authorities to demand their rights.

Some chiefs are set to hold a protest for Tuareg rights on March 17th at the provincial headquarters in the city of Tamanrasset. The rally was organized by Ahmed Idabir, the aménokal, or chief, of the Kel Ahaggar Tuareg confederation that dominates the Hoggar mountains. "This will be an occasion to publicly express that we've had enough, to denounce the exclusion and marginalization we've felt for years," he says to El Watan. Chiefs from each tribe in the confederation will meet in front of the offices of the provincial governor to demand greater economic, political, and cultural rights for Algeria's Tuareg population.

Patience has its limits.

But their initiative is being opposed by other Tuareg leaders like senator Mohamed Akhamoukh, who say the focus should be on pressuring authorities in the capital. "It's not the provincial governor's fault, he's done his best to help the community," says Akhamoukh, a senator for the Rally for Culture and Democracy party, which supports Tuareg and Berber rights. "These problems come from above, we need a reaction from the central government."

Idabir is at the center of a dynastic struggle over the title of aménokal with Akhamoukh, the son of Idabir's predecessor, Hadj Moussa Akhamoukh, who died in 1977. While Idabir claims to be the rightful chief of the Kel Ahaggar confederation, Akhamoukh dismisses this as baseless because the Algerian government ceased formally recognizing the title after his father's death.

The chiefs want to unite the community and mobilize a sizable number of Tuaregs to the protest to demonstrate to local and national authorities the depth of local resentment. Idabir has styled himself as the leader of the wider Tuareg community in southern Algeria, hoping to serve as an interlocutor in any talks with the government in Algiers.

"We're ringing the alarm bell to warn authorities of the dire situation in Tamanrasset," he says. "As chief, I've tried to calm people's spirits, but patience has its limits."

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