Bouteflika sees mosque as symbol of legacy
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.