The Chinese in Algeria. A marriage between the bourek* and the spring roll  | Ghania Khelifi
The Chinese in Algeria. A marriage between the bourek* and the spring roll Print
Ghania Khelifi   
The Chinese in Algeria. A marriage between the bourek* and the spring roll  | Ghania KhelifiDuring this year’s Ramadan, the Algerian who were fasting were accompanied by their new Chinese fellows. The Ministry of Religious Affairs recently announced that the majority of the 134 foreigners who converted to Islam in 2011 were Chinese.
The Minister added that the number of Chinese converting is “increasing”. The Chinese of Algeria definitely have not stopped surprising the suspicious and sometimes xenophobic natives. Fortunately not all of them since, this year, two Algerian women have married Chinese men. These marriages are actually increasing too. The Chinese have started arriving in Algeria in the early 2000’s. First they were workers, technicians and civil engineers. They shortly began to access to other professions and have now become part of the Algerian landscape. As long as they were confined to construction sites, they were admired for their ability to work and their discipline. However, things changed when they have invested in all forms of trade. These men and women harangue the Arab customer in Arabic dialect. These “chnawas” as they are called here, were advertising their merchandise during the month of Ramadan and in the beginning the Algerians did neither believe their eyes nor their ears. A foreigner should live in the chic areas and not associate with “the Arabs”.

However, these foreigners of another kind have quickly transferred their stalls from popular markets to occupy shops in the busiest shopping streets. Over the years, the areas reserved for wholesale and import products have become a sort of Chinatown. This rapid and effective competition was not very appreciated by the natives who are unaccustomed to the coexistence and competition of foreigners at home. In 2010, the French and the local press took advantage of the violent clashes between the two communities in a city of the Eastern suburbs of Algiers. Bab Ezzouar, a kind a huge bazaar has been through an eventful week after an Algerian retailer attacked a Chinese man. These incidents were an opportunity for the inhabitants to admit to the press that “these people did not respect Muslim traditions” and this was starting to irritate them. The Chinese were not a loss of grievances. All said they were tired of the Algerian racism and xenophobia. Their ambassador had also formally complained to the authorities. Nonetheless, one should still not be believe that life is hell in Algeria. The Algerians are not a model of tolerance but they do respect effort and perseverance. The Asian community is better off than African immigrants relegated to the margins of society and exposed to all forms of discrimination.
The Chinese in Algeria. A marriage between the bourek* and the spring roll  | Ghania KhelifiIn spite of everything, connections are created and common stories are written between the Chinese and the Algerian. In an article for a regional newspaper, the local correspondent in Kabylia was almost moved by the people’s comments “From time to time, we offer then couscous, fritters…the love them. On their behalf, these Asians are trying to give a good image of their country when the opportunity arises. They have even participated to the paving of the mosque of 140 accommodation spaces, adjacent to the place where they live. During a wedding reception, the organising family dared to invite Chinese guests. The Chinese came to the reception with gifts and offered hundreds of boxes of lemonade to the groom. These two examples suggest that isolation is more a result of language barrier than of a deliberate will to live in autarky. At the “Errahma” bazaar, there is a shoe stand run by Chinese women who speaks Arabic and who does not hesitate to serve her customers.

Unlike many other foreigners, many Chinese intend settling in Algeria and to many Algerians, they are no longer temporary “guests”. By mastering the Algerian dialect in all its popular subtleties, by adopting certain behaviour they are using here all the instruments to help them integrate the host society. The transplant has quite caught on but it is just matter of time.

The Chinese in Algeria. A marriage between the bourek* and the spring roll  | Ghania Khelifi
Le ministre des Travaux publics Amar Ghoul et Yi Jun, PDG de l’entreprise chinoise CSCE
After a period of hesitation, the State also seems to have accepted the idea and according to several officials, it is encouraging Chinese investments in Algeria. There are about fifty big Chinese companies in Algeria and about twenty cooperation agreements in various fields have been signed between the two countries. The trading volume between China and Algeria has reached 5 billion dollars in 2010, that is, an increase of 2.2% compared to the same period in 2009. The measures taken by the Algerian government with regards to foreign trade and the obligation to have an Algerian partner which detains 51% of the project have obliged certain companies to leave the country but the Chinese community is still composed of more than forty thousand nationals. In 2011 their presence will be reinforced by the teaching of Chinese in Algeria and the opening of the Chinese television permanent office. The Algerians will be obliged to admit that they will get used to these men and women coming from so far away and who even if they are not so happy to adopt their ways of life, they seem happy to be in Algeria.

* nem algérien farci de viande ou de fromage

Ghania Khelifi
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech