Algerian Communication Minister Naser Mehal took everyone by surprise when he announced an invitation to controversial Jewish singer Enrico Macias to visit Algeria, thus lifting the years-long ban on the Algerian-origin artist.
Macias, slammed in Algeria for his pro-Israel stance, was banned from entering his country of origin twice, once in 2000 and 2007. Both times, massive demonstrations were held to protest his being hosted.
Mehal, however, said that it was the singer who decided against visiting Algeria.
“Nobody banned Macias from entering the country in which he was born and raised,” Mehal said in an interview with Radio Orient, which broadcasts from Paris. “All French citizens are welcome in Algeria and this includes Macias.”
Mehal accused Macias of lying when he declared that it was the Algerian government that canceled the visits following popular pressure.
“In Algeria there is a tendency towards staying silent about the issue so that we won’t cause problems, but Algerian-French relations should not be affected by whether Macias comes or not.”
According to Mehal, Macias first planned to visit Algeria in 2000, a few months after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika took office. At that time, the vibes Macias got from the president were quite positive so he announced his visit, then changed his mind after Algerians took to the streets and called for banning him from entering the country.
In 2007, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to pay an official visit to Algeria and decided to include Macias in the delegation hoping that this would make it easier for the singer.
However, the objection came from the Algerian government when the then Prime Minister Abdel Aziz Belkhadem threatened to boycott Sarkozy’s visit if Macias accompanied him.
Belkhadem also launched a fierce campaign against the singer in several Algerian cities where he told people that he supported the French occupation and that he is pro-Israeli.
Popular resistance to Macias’s visit was more forceful this time and triggered the establishment of a national committee against normalization with Israel which was headed by Khaled bin Ismail, a very close friend of Belkhadem and late Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella. The committee was supported by the sons of martyrs and freedom fighters.
However, it seemed that only some residents of his birthplace, the northern city of Constantine, were ready to receive him and, in fact, painted the Jewish cemetery in blue and white in preparation for his visit.
Then too Macias canceled his visit and Sarkozy reportedly consoled him saying, “Be patient. You will go there sometime soon.” To this, Macias reportedly replied, “Of course one day I will visit Algeria and my hometown Constantine.”
Political analyst Abdul Aali Razaki warned of the consequences of Macias’s visit.
“Algerians are known their dislike of all things Jewish, let alone someone whose brother-in-law musician Raymond Leyris was involved in killing Algerians during the independence war,” he told Al Arabiya.
Razaki criticized Mehal for inviting Macias, an action that he labeled “insensitive” and “unethical.”
“I would have expected this invitation to come from Culture Minister Khalida Toumi because she had visited Israel before.”
He also accused the Algerian government of involving people in “petty” issues so that they can be distracted from their real problems.
Prominent Algerian activist who goes by the name “Algerie Salah de Londre” posted a video on You Tube slamming the invitation.
In the video, entitled “Mehal welcomes Enrico Macias in Algeria,” Salah de Londre said that Algerians have no problem with people’s religions and that it is not about Macias being Jewish, but his support for Israel against Palestine especially during the aggression on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead.
“Did you ask Algerians and the residents of Constantine if they are willing to receive Macias?” he said addressing Mehal.
Salah added that Macias’s grandfather is known for having urinated in a mosque in Constantine in order to humiliate Algerians.
“All Algerians know who Macias is,” he concluded the video.