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Minority Rights In Algeria: Tension Among Tuareg Chiefs

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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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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