Bouteflika sees mosque as symbol of legacy

Sunday 27/11/2016
Mosque is expected to cost an estimated $1.5 billion

TUNIS - Algeria will inaugu­rate Djamaa El Djazair mosque, the largest in Africa, in Algiers in December to anchor the legacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a living symbol of the nationalist movement that freed Algeria and revived its religious and cultural identity after 130 years of French colonial rule.

“Our forefathers built al-Azhar mosque in Cairo. We are building for Algeria its religious landmark and its Islamic reference to protect the nation, its African environment and the world with enlightenment and moderate religious observation and guidance,” said Mohamed Ais­sa, the Religious Affairs minister.

Aissa inspected the sprawling fa­cility on November 17th along with the Housing and City Minister Ab­delmajid Taboune and Algiers Gov­ernor Abdelkader Zoukh.

Their inspection of the mosque to discuss the final touches came after Bouteflika visited the build­ing site on October 30th for more than three hours, prompting local analysts to speculate that the Alge­rian leader wanted to show he was doing well despite his fragile health after suffering at least two strokes since 2013.

Some of the analysts said his visit to the construction site was meant as a message for potential rivals that Bouteflika could possibly ex­tend his 20-year stay in power in 2019 when his current five-year mandate ends.

“We will bring the best Islamic experts in the world to train the fu­ture imams of al-Djazair mosque,” said Aissa.

Bouteflika broke ground for the mosque on October 31st, 2011. It is expected to cost an estimated $1.5 billion and spread over 20 hectares. The central prayer area will be able to accommodate 120,000 worship­pers, its minaret will be 265 metres tall, and there will be a library even­tually containing 1 million books.

While secularist intellectuals have deplored the mosque as a symbol of a progressive Algeria slid­ing from its humanist secularism and the revolutionary principles, Bouteflika’s supporters defend the costly project as a necessity to bol­ster Algeria against fanatical brands of Islamism.

Critics have cited estimates that the financing of the mosque would be better spent in building its equiv­alent of 100,000 housing units, 10 big hospitals and 20 opera houses at a time when the government is trimming social spending because of lower oil revenues.

The government’s supporters say the mosque will play the role of an Islamic fortress to boost the coun­try’s defence against extremism, which if it left unchecked could cost more.

They gave the example of Alge­ria’s experience with extremism. An Islamist insurgency starting in the 1990s left more than 200,000 dead and cost an estimated $80 bil­lion in damages and missed devel­opment opportunities.

German architects KSP Engel und Zimmermann designed the mosque and the China State Construction Engineering Corporation has de­ployed about 16,000 workers to build it.

Algerians have been wondering about the number of worshippers who would brave the legendary traf­fic to reach the mosque in the Mo­hammadia neighbourhood.

To protect it from non-human damages, the mosque planners re­cruited tremor experts from Japan and the United States to help build a facility capable of withstanding an earthquake of 9 on the Richter scale, officials said.