One of Algeria's most controversial and popular singers, Lounes
Matoub, was killed last week at the age of 42 in the Kabylie region
of Thala Bounane, 4 miles from Tizi Ouzou City east of Algiers.
Accompanied by his wife and two sisters-in-law, Lounes Matoub
was returning home from a lunch in Tizi Ouzou when a dozen armed
men ambushed him at about 1:30 PM killing him and wounding his
wife and her sisters. Mr. Matoub defended himself with his own
gun but was not able to escape the ambush.
Lounes Matoub is well known for his pro-democracy, anti-Islamist
and anti-government positions. He has been of the fiercest defenders
of the Tamazight language and one of the strongest opponents of
militant and political Islam.
For many militants of democracy and the Tamazight language in
Algeria, Matoub is one of the first singers to have defined himself
as a political militant. In his songs and poems Matoub openly
attacks the various regimes in Algeria. One of his first songs
called "The Solidarity Fund" (Assendouk Attadamoun)
made him famous at the start of his career. This song refers to
the time when the first Algerian President, Ben Bella, established
in 1963, a "Solidarity Fund" asking Algerian women to
give up their
jewelry to benefit the newly created state. Tens of thousands
of Algerian women did so and as of today no one knows how the
collected jewelry was used. Many simply say that Ben Bella took
During the Boumediene regime, Matoub wrote numerous songs that
brought him trouble. In one of them, best translated as "Mute
Algerian," he exposed the issues of oppression, repression,
and totalitarism imposed by the Boumediene regime.
During the Chadli regime known as the "dark years,"
Matoub reached what was considered as the best years of "his
art," denouncing corruption, the lack of human rights, abuses,
and the status of the Tamazight language.
During the riots of 1988, Matoub was on the street distributing
pamphlets calling for a return to calm when he was shot by a gendarme
(a paramilitary police officer). Later he wrote a famous song
titled "The Gendarme of Shame" (Ajadarmi Laar).
Within a newly established multi-party system following the 1988
riots, Lounes Matoub had some difficulties adapting to the new
political landscape. He was known to swing between one political
party to the other depending on the issue of the day. The two
parties he was affiliated with were the Rally for Democracy and
Culture (RCD) and the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) with both strong
Berber and Kabyle constituencies. Many however, explain that his
inability to adapt to the system and to belong to one single party
was a clear symbol of his political and cultural independence.
For them, Matoub would better serve the Tamazight language and
democracy causes by remaining independent.
The assassination of Matoub is considered by observers as an attempt
by the perpetrators to destabilize once again the Kabylie region
and to initiate a civil war.
Indeed hours after the death of Matoub, thousands of people rioted
in Tizi Ouzou blaming the government for being responsible for
his killing. The government says that it is a group of terrorists
who have committed this crime.
In fact this event occurred at a time when there is a lot of tension
in the Algerian political scene. Such tension is the result of
a dead-end in Algeria's political system where dialogue rarely
results in problem solving but in rather unhealthy confrontations.
Tension comes from a variety of problems that could not find a
solution with the current system. Example of such problems are
the Arabization law which many see as a sign of tension between
various lobbies in Algeria. The questioning last week of the head
of PRA party, Mr. Boukrouh, by the police following an article
he wrote making embarrassing remarks about many high level government
officials and an army general. Decisions are often taken unilaterally
without debate and certainly without consensus.
Many observers see this latest assassination yet another clear
attempt to discredit the state and weaken it further. Organized
terrorist groups are indeed the best positioned to benefit from
the killing of such a high profile figure. It will not only ignite
a whole region already traumatized by the Arabization law, but
it will also bring publicity needed by a weak terrorist organization
thanks to the media coverage of this event. Indeed, over the last
few months and in spite of the continued terrorist acts, the Algerian
security forces have launched a nationwide offensive killing scores
of what is referred to as "terrorists." With a weakening
organization, media coverage and publicity may be boosting elements.
Meanwhile, in the Tizi Ouzou region riots broke out and thousands
of angry fans of Matoub demonstrated violently destroying anything
that symbolizes the state. This is in spite of the calls of calm
made by all the political establishment and in particular opposition
parties and the "Berber Cultural Movement" (MCB). Some
media sources report that 4 individuals died as a result of clashes
with the security forces.
Singers and artists have been targeted by assassins for years.
Matoub is now the fifth singer in four years to have paid the
ultimate price for his positions. In September 1994, one of Algeria's
top "Rai" singer, Chab Hasni, was killed when a group
of men kidnapped Matoub. Matoub was released but Hasni died. In
February 1995 the singer, producer and composer Rachid Baba-Ahmed
known in the Rachid & Fathi duo was also gunned down. Six
months later singer Lila Amar was shot dead and her husband slaughtered.
In September 1996 killers attacked another Rai singer Cheb Aziz.
Aziz was only 28.
Scores of other people of arts, theater, cinema, etc. were killed.
The poet and writer Tahar Djaout was the first one in a long list
of men and women who perished because of their profession and
believes. Current estimates put at 70 the number of artists who
have been eliminated in Algeria over the last four years. Youcef
Sebti, poet and professor of agronomy was slaughtered in 1994
while he was asleep. Then it was the turn of the famous Abdelkader
Alloula, one of Algeria's most respected man of theater. Then
Azzedine Madjoubi who was killed days after he took over the management
of Algiers TNA (National Theater). There are many others.
If many doubt that fundamentalism has been the primary killer
of these individuals, consider what the number two FIS (Islamic
Salvation Front) leader Ali Benhaj said once talking to a group
of followers: "Algiers' School of Fine Arts is a place of
depravation." Few days later, Fine Arts specialist Ahmed
Asselah and his son, a second year Fine Arts student, were both
Algeria's tragedy unfortunately continues but hope should remain
that reconciliation will come some day for the good of all Algerians
and the future of their children.