The Agony of Algeria – STONE (CSS)

STONE, Martin. The Agony of Algeria. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 274. Resenha de: LUDLOW, Basil. Canadian Social Studies, v.35, n.3, 2001.

Stone’s objective in The Agony of Algeria is to introduce Algeria to English speaking readers who are unfamiliar with the country and to try to explain the complexity of this most fascinating of the Arab countries. With his sweeping background of the country’s political and social life, the author has certainly accomplished that objective. He immerses one into the uniqueness of a country that has struggled with many issues and a number of successive political regimes. Stone concentrates on three important phases of Algeria’s history – those of the Ben Bella, Bumedienne and the reformist Chadli Bendjedid, and the political and economic crisis under the haut Comite d’Etat (HCE).

There is a lot of history packed in to this book. One could spend a lot of time in each section. The book is valuable for its historical perspective on this evolving country. In today’s society, where a political crisis can erupt at any moment, it is helpful to know the historical background so that we can better understand the modern problems. Stone does a superb job of explaining how unresolved issues can erupt years later and cause more tensions. We can see a lot of political problems today that have a historical root. One also can see the quest for a national identity in Algerian politics since independence.

The book covers a number of political groups and tensions. I would like to concentrate on one area entitled The Berber Question. According to the author, the country’s large Berber minority is one of the obstacles to an Islamist view of Algeria. The best organized of the Berber groups are the Kabyles; a minority in the country. Stone states that the Berber question has haunted Algerian politics since before independence. When one learns the historical perspective it helps to understand the conflict and why it still continues.

The concluding chapter puts it all in focus by explaining the agony in the title. Agony is quite a loaded word in that it implies a continuous suffering. Stone summarizes the three major challenges still facing the Algerian peoples: the legitimacy of the state and the role of democracy; Islam and its role in the Algerian constitution and the social and cultural questions posed by the position of the Kabyle minority within Algeria; and, the role of the French language. Yet, Stone ends on a very positive note as he strongly believes that the Algerian peoples are capable of meeting these challenges.

The Agony of Algeria is an excellent book for background material for a college student but it would be rather difficult reading for a high school student. Guiding questions would help a student get through the material. The book has a good bibliography. There are no coloured maps and little or no visuals, however, which would lessen its appeal for students. This is a scholarly book but it is not necessarily student friendly.

Basil Ludlow – St. Andrew Junior School. Antigonish, NS.

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