Algeria reportedly cancels soccer match with Ghana because of Israeli coach


Don’t hate the player, hate the Jewish coach, might be Algeria’s sports motto.

Algeria’s soccer team is reportedly pulling out of a friendly match with Ghana because they have an Israeli head coach, according to the Times of Israel reporting from Ghanaian media.

According to the report, the Algerian team canceled the match scheduled for September to ensure that Avram Grant did not step foot in their country, which could potentially infuriate the Algerian people who embrace a pro-Palestinian agenda.

Algerian journalist Ayman Gada posted to Facebook that “the Algerian national team canceled the friendly match because it refused to host Ghana’s Israeli coach,” the Times of Israel said.

Grant, a veteran coach of the English soccer team Chelsea, has been coaching the West African nation’s team for the past two years.

ISIS echoes from the past


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

The infamy of the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris this week, stems from the brutality of its executions and the medieval mentality with which it runs its ‘caliphate.’ Using the power of the internet and the camera, the Sunni ultra-extremist group has shocked the world and appears to have convinced Western audiences of its unique power to menace. Yet the Islamic State is hardly alone in its strategy of killing on a colossal scale. Two particular groups stand out in recent history with bloody parallels to the Islamic State.

In Algeria, following the cancelation of election results in 1991 by the army, the country slowly slid into a civil war which raged until 2002 and cost the lives of as many as 150,000 people. Among the many Islamist factions fighting the government, one stood apart for its brutality and hardline stance towards anybody who opposed its ideology. The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) became synonymous with attacks against civilians as it led a strategy of terrorizing the population into submission and compliance. Organized massacres against villages were a significant part of this campaign with attacks on the communities of Bentalha and Rais being some of the most bloody, each killing hundreds of people.

This was a strategy that worked in the early years of the civil war, Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, a research analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told The Media Line. Between 1992 and 1995 the GIA received support from the local population who, “even gave their own children to do jihad against the ‘impious state,’” Ghanem-Yazbeck said. The similarities between the GIA, who attempted to run their own caliphate in territory they controlled, and ISIS are apparent, the academic suggested. “ISIS even talks about the GIA in one of its issues of Dabiq… I think that ISIS is learning from the mistakes of the GIA and trying to avoid them,” Ghanem-Yazbeck said, referring to ISIS’s online monthly magazine.

A second organization with close parallels to the Islamic State, despite its communist ideology, was Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. Taking power in the small Southeast Asian country in 1975, the party of Pol Pot is believed to have caused the deaths of as many as 2 million of its own citizens during its short four-year reign. As much as a quarter of the population could have been killed through starvation, exhaustion, torture and execution, byproducts of the dictator’s attempts to bring about a utopian agricultural society.

“Under Pol Pot they established ‘Year Zero’ where everybody would be equal, would be a peasant and grow rice,” Myers Cooper, director of the charity Cambodian Communities out of Crises, told The Media Line. The population was forced to move into the countryside and work using primitive tools in agricultural communes. A number of famines followed as urban Cambodians struggled to learn to farm without using technologies invented prior to ‘Year Zero,’ i.e. 1975.

To add to the death toll, all “enemies, actual and perceived,” were executed, Cooper said. This included professionals, foreigners, ‘subversives,’ and anybody else who did not match the Khmer Rouge’s ideal of a perfect communist peasant. In some cases the extremes of the cadres were so arbitrary as to be bizarre. “People who wore glasses were (assumed to be) intelligentsia and therefore executed – all in the name of equality and the elimination of privilege,” Cooper explained.

Parallels to the rise of the Islamic State out of the insurgency in Iraq against the United States military can be seen in the ascension of the Khmer Rouge from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. In an effort to destroy Viet Cong supply routes, the US dropped a huge amount of ordinance onto Cambodia. “The Khmer Rouge played on the bombing, they gained much popular support from ordinary people whose lives had been ruined by collateral damage,” Cooper suggested.

From these parallels it is possible that lessons might be learned for policy leaders looking to tackle ISIS, or that warnings for the future may present themselves, the analysts hinted.

A policy of “decay and infiltration” brought about the collapse of the GIA in Algeria, Ghanem-Yazbeck suggests. The military allowed the GIA to control territory it had seized and waited until the population in these zones became disgusted by the Islamist’s brutality and formed a ‘counter-resistance,’ Ghanem-Yazbeck said. At the same time the security service infiltrated the GIA with spies reducing the organization effectiveness.

The temporary defeat of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq following the ‘Sunni Awakening’ bears similarities to the events in Algeria. The Sunni extremist group was pushed out of many areas of the country by local people, supported by US forces, who had become disgusted with their brutality.

“What killed the GIA is the GIA,” Ghanem-Yazbeck argued, pointing to the extremists’ decision to ‘excommunicate’ the entirety of Algerian Muslim society for not being ‘sufficiently pious’ to join their revolution. This may offer hope to those fighting the Islamic State. As Ghanem-Yazbeck said, “I do believe that only IS will kill IS.”

At the same time there are warnings. Such was the corruption of the Cambodian regime prior to the Khmer Rouge that US-supplied weapons were sold to the Khmer Rouge, rather than being used against them, Cooper said. “Perhaps there is a parallel in that if we give aid to the government in the countries affected (by ISIS) there is the risk that they will not use it effectively,” Cooper suggested.

Simultaneously the charity director noted a second cautionary point. The Khmer Rouge were removed from government by the invasion of their communist neighbor Vietnam in 1979. With the logic of the Cold War, Vietnam was the West’s enemy and therefore the Khmer Rouge, who escaped into the jungles of Cambodia to fight a guerilla war, became allies. Rumors persist that Western governments supported the Khmer Rouge campaign after 1979, despite the genocide they had committed, Cooper explained.

In the efforts to remove the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, Cooper warns, “(It is) possible that we might end up supporting ISIS.”

Retirement of the world’s longest serving intelligence chief


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

The world’s longest serving spy chief has been removed from his position as the head of Algeria’s military security agency, the Department for Intelligence and Security (DRS) said. Mohamed Mediene, also known as General Tewfiq, was responsible for restrictions imposed on the country’s media and banned all local outlets from using his name or attempting to photograph him during his twenty-five year tenure.

Mediene was replaced in September as part of a series of reshuffles aimed at reducing the political involvement of the DRS. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appointed General Athmane Tartag, an officer with a background in counter-terrorism operations, to replace the long serving spy chief.

Some political experts believed that “the downfall of Mediene could breathe new life into Algeria's politics,” as the Soviet KGB-trained security chief was widely feared by local media professionals.

However journalists in Algeria are sceptical that Mediene’s replacement will be any more welcoming towards press freedoms.

First to lose out to the switch in leadership will be individuals in the press who enjoyed close connections with Mediene, a journalist working for one of the country’s bestselling publications, told The Media Line. “Outlets and mainstream media that had the support of a certain group of people (and who were) close to this intelligence department will, for sure, lose access they used to have,” the journalist, who wished not to be identified, said.

“Since they no longer have their privileges, as they had for decades, everything will change as they no longer have guarantees that allow them to exist on the country’s media market,” the journalist concluded. 

The leadership shuffle comes two years into an attempt by President Bouteflika to curb the power of the DRS and its head, who at times in the past acted as a kingmaker to Algerian political struggles. The removal of Mediene was seen as necessary for President Bouteflika, who is believed to be approaching the end of his political life, to appoint his successor. Mediene supported Bouteflika’s rule during his first three terms in office but the two men became estranged in the president’s fourth term. This led to a behind the scenes power struggle, which now appears to have come to a close with Mediene’s dismissal.

However a change to the countries spy-chief does not necessarily mean a change in policy towards the media.

Algeria’s government has no interest in seeing a free press established, Nassim Merouani, a journalist who asked that his foreign news agency employer not to be identified, told The Media Line. A combination of state ownership and privileged access in exchange for favourable coverage has often been sufficient to achieve this effect, Merouani suggested.

All radio and television channels have been owned by the government since Algeria’s independence in 1962. This changed in 2014, as a new audio-visual law was adopted, enabling more than 40 new private television channels to open. All these TV channels are “offshore”, broadcasting from abroad, mainly from within the Middle East. To date, radio channels continue to be broadcast exclusively by the government.

The country has more than 130 newspapers published in French and Arabic, in addition to dozens of online publications. However, there is no newspaper published in Algeria.

Despite a recent reduction in censorship, Algeria continues to be known for a lack of press freedom. Reporters without Borders ranked the country 119th out of 180 states in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index.

In April of this year the media watch dog criticised “the latest cases of censorship in Algeria,” following the suspension of a popular satirical television show for “repeated excesses” and the “attacking (of) state symbols.” In the same month authorities also briefly arrested a cartoonist accused of “defaming and attacking the president.”

Such actions quickly lead to self-censorship, Merouani explained. “In reality, journalists, including myself, are in the process of self-censorship as we know that there are some things that will not be published,” the journalist said. “Barriers are, first, made by the story’s author, then the newspaper’s editor-in-chief intervenes. Everyone sets their own limits according to their level,” he concluded.

Media owners reached for comment by The Media Line declined to respond.

Irrespective of changes in the internal structure of Algeria’s military, the state’s propensity towards curtailing freedom of the press and freedom of expression are set to continue for some time, Merouani concluded.

Foreigners still caught in Sahara hostage crisis


More than 20 foreigners were still either being held hostage or missing inside a gas plant on Friday after Algerian forces stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist militants.

More than a day after the Algerian army launched an assault to seize the remote desert compound, much was still unclear about the number and fate of the victims, leaving countries with citizens in harm's way struggling to find hard information.

Reports on the number of hostages killed ranged from 12 to 30, with anywhere from dozens to scores of foreigners still unaccounted for.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, eight of whose countrymen were missing, said fighters still controlled the gas treatment plant itself, while Algerian forces now held the nearby residential compound that housed hundred of workers.

Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries expressed frustration that the assault had been ordered without consultation. Many countries were also withholding information about their citizens to avoid helping the captors.

Night fell quietly on the village of In Amenas, the nearest settlement, some 50 km (30 miles) from the vast and remote desert plant. A military helicopter could be seen in the sky.

An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest of the dead still unclear, he said.

Algeria's state news agency APS put the total number of dead hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.

Norway's Stoltenberg said some of those killed in vehicles blasted by the army could not be identified. “We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope.”

Northern Irish engineer Stephen McFaul, who survived, said he saw four trucks full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops.

The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.

“We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.

A local Algerian source said 100 of 132 foreign hostages had been freed from the facility. However, other estimates of the number of unaccounted-for foreigners were higher. Earlier the same source said 60 were still missing. Some may be held hostage; others may still be hiding in the sprawling compound.

Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming, the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.

Those still unaccounted for on Friday included 10 from Japan and eight Norwegians, according to their employers, and a number of Britons which Cameron put at “significantly” less than 30

France said it had no information on two Frenchmen who may have been at the site and Washington has said a number of Americans were among the hostages, without giving details. The local source said a U.S. aircraft landed nearby on Friday.

The attackers had initially claimed to be holding 41 Western hostages. Some Westerners were able to evade capture by hiding.

They lived among hundreds of Algerian employees on the compound. The state news agency said the army had rescued 650 hostages in total, 573 of whom were Algerians.

“(The army) is still trying to achieve a 'peaceful outcome' before neutralising the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held,” it said, quoting a security source.

MULTINATIONAL INSURGENCY

Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30 hours after the siege began, because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.

A French hostage employed by a French catering company said he had hidden in his room for 40 hours under the bed, relying on Algerian employees to smuggle him food with a password.

“I put boards up pretty much all round,” Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio. “I didn't know how long I was going to stay there … I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up in a pine box.”

The captors said their attack was a response to a French military offensive in neighbouring Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organised from scratch in the single week since France first launched its strikes.

Paris says the incident proves that its decision to fight Islamists in neighbouring Mali was necessary.

Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a pre-occupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.

The most powerful Islamist groups in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in a civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of Al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.

Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year, prompting the French intervention in that poor African former colony.

The Algerian security source said only two of 11 militants whose bodies were found on Thursday were Algerian, including the squad's leader. The others comprised three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman, he said.

The plant was heavily fortified, with security, controlled access and an army camp with hundreds of armed personnel between the accommodation and processing plant, Andy Coward Honeywell, who worked there in 2009, told the BBC.

The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the value of outwardly tough security measures.

Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site. The attackers benefitted from bases and staging grounds across the nearby border in Libya's desert, Algerian officials said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those respsonsible would be hunted down: “Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere…. Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide.”

WARNING OF MORE ATTACKS

The kidnappers threatened more attacks and warned Algerians to stay away from foreign companies' installations, according to Mauritania's news agency ANI, which maintained contact with the group during the siege.

Hundreds of workers from international oil companies were evacuated from Algeria on Thursday and many more will follow, said BP, which jointly ran the gas plant with Norway's Statoil and the Algerian state oil firm.

The overall commander of the kidnappers, Algerian officials said, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed veteran of Afghanistan in the 1980s and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s. He appears not to have been present.

Algerian security specialist Anis Rahmani, author of several books on terrorism and editor of Ennahar daily, told Reuters about 70 militants were involved from two groups, Belmokhtar's “Those who sign in blood”, who travelled from Libya, and the lesser known “Movement of the Islamic Youth in the South”.

Britain's Cameron, who warned people to prepare for bad news and who cancelled a major policy speech on Friday to deal with the situation, said he would have liked Algeria to have consulted before the raid. Japan made similar complaints.

U.S. officials had no clear information on the fate of Americans. Washington, like its European allies, has endorsed France's military intervention in Mali.

Algeria reportedly refuses body of Toulouse gunman


The body of the gunman who killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse will be buried in France rather than Algeria as his father had requested.

Algerian authorities have refused to allow the body of Mohammed Merah to enter the country for burial, Reuters reported, citing an official at the Grand Mosque of Paris.

The mayor of the Algerian village of Bezzaz reportedly citied security reasons for declining the request, according to Reuters.

Merah’s father continues to insist that his son will be buried in Algeria. Merah is a French citizen of Algerian origin.

Abdallah Zekri of the Paris mosque, however, told Reuters that Merah would likely be buried in the Toulouse area, preferably in the next 24 hours.

Merah’s body is currently at a hospital morgue in Toulouse.

He was killed by police after a 30-hour siege at his Toulouse home. During the siege, Merah told French police that he killed the Jewish students at the Ozar Hatorah school in revenge for Palestinian children killed in Gaza, and had killed three French soldiers the previous week for serving in Afghanistan.

Enrico Suavé


In 1961, a saddened and disheartened 23-year-old Algerian school teacher and musician named Gaston Ghenassia was merely one of the thousands of refugees on a ship bound for France, leaving his homeland in the aftermath of the Algerian Revolution. Little did he know at the time how defining a moment it was to become in his life.

For it was on that very ship ride that Ghenassia wrote “Adieu, Mon Pays” (“Goodbye, My Homeland”), the song that would not only launch his music career, but make him one of France’s hottest singer-songwriters and an international star.

Almost 40 years and more than 500 songs later, the entertainer, now known as Enrico Macias, tours the world playing sizable venues. In fact, his appearance next week at the Universal Amphitheater will complete his current tour of North America, where his loyal fans will appear yet again to see him perform his hits; compositions — such as “Oh Guitare, Guitare” and “Ma Maison, Ma Maison” — which have managed to reflect his Sephardic spirit even as they captured the imagination of France.

Born in Constantine, Enrico Macias lived a pied -noir existence in Algeria, often playing local concerts with his greatest creative influence — his musician father-in-law. But it was following his exile from Algeria that a deep social consciousness began to permeate Macias’ songwriting with tunes like “La Tolerance.”

“Always misunderstanding comes with the silence,” Macias recently told the Journal, “And I hate the silence…my job is to break the silence [through my music]…to build dialogue.”

Macias’ Jewish lineage is also at the heart of many of his signature recordings. He has sung Ashkenazi standards “Kol Nidre” and “Poi Poi Poi” and wrote “Six Millions De Larmes” (“Six Million Tears”) as a reaction to the Holocaust. One of his most popular songs, “Juif Espagnol” (“the Spanish Jew”), synthesizes his twin musical interests — his heritage and global brotherhood — in a simple and vulnerable first-person plea:

“I am a Spanish Jew/

I am a Greek-Armenian/

I am a French Creole/

I am a Jewish Arab/

I am every place where people reach out to each other.”

Over the course of his stellar career, Macias has toured the world many times over. He has recorded tracks in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic. He sang before Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, and entertained Israeli troops on the front lines during the 1967 Six Day War. In 1997, Macias was designated a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, alongside Actor Michael Douglas.

But one of the greatest highlights of Macias’ life came in September 1979, when he played a command performance for a very special fan — Anwar Sadat. Meeting the Egyptian president made a great impact on the singer, and when Sadat was assassinated only weeks later, Macias was compelled to write the song “Un Berger Vient De Tomber” (“A Shepherd Just Fell”).

“He was a martyr for peace,” says Macias of Sadat. “He gave us the example and now we follow his example…When Rabin died, they asked me to write a song for Rabin. I said that I already wrote the song – “Un Berger Vient De Tomber.” Unfortunately the song is the same.”

Macias’ latest release, an album dedicated to his father-in-law mentor titled “Hommage au Chef Raymond,” takes the entertainer full circle back to his classic Algerian roots. As for his work as a U.N. emissary, Macias — who has met with refugees all over the world and spoken to the presidents of their countries — says that he finds himself in a privileged position.

“I cannot change the world,” says the singer. “I can only be an example. I am a witness, not a moralist.”

Enrico Macias will culminate his North American tour at the Universal Amphitheater on Nov. 4 at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call (310) 273-2824.

Screenings


In Roger Hanin’s semi-autobiographical film, “Soleil” (1997), 13-year-old Meyer is kicked out of school for being Jewish in Vichy North Africa. It is a sign that things have changed for his family in Algeria, where Jews had peacefully lived for centuries amid the Moslems. Now, Meyer’s communist father must go into hiding; his mother, Titine (Sophia Loren), must raise her children alone, charming black marketeers into giving her food. She manages to talk authorities into keeping Meyer out of jail when he is caught writing anti-government graffiti.

“Soleil” will debut here at the Director’s Guild on Oct. 28, the gala opening of the second annual Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival, sponsored by the Sephardic Educational Center. Like all 13 of the festival shorts, features and documentaries, “Soleil” emphasizes the ethnic diversity of Sephardic Jews.

The festival continues on Nov. 3, 5 and 8 with films such as “Novia Que Te Vea,” about the courtship of a Sephardic boy and an Ashkenazic girl in Mexico City after World War II; the documentary “The South: Alice Never Lived Here,” in which Greek-Bulgarian filmmaker Sini Bar David revisits her Jaffa Sephardic neighborhood; and “Zohar,” about the Israeli music superstar, Zohar Argov, who committed suicide in 1987.

The screenings will take place at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills and at the Laemmle Town Center in Encino; there also will be a filmmakers’ seminar on Nov. 8 at the Music Hall. For a festival schedule and information, call (310) 441-9361. *


“Soleil” with Sophia Loren will debut at the Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival on Oct. 28.