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Algeria: Controversy over Emir Abdelkader statue

May 27, 2023 at 10:45 am

A memorial statue of historic Algerian leader Emir Abdelkader in Algiers, Algeria. [RYAD KRAMDI/AFP via Getty Images]

Algerian authorities have unveiled an ambitious project to construct the world’s tallest statue, depicting the symbol of resistance against French colonialism and the founder of modern Algeria, Emir Abdelkader Ben Mohieddine Al-Djazairi.

The statue of the Emir will be erected atop Mount Murdjadjo in the city of Oran, one of the key cities in western Algeria, reaching a height of 42 metres. This will surpass the size of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as revealed by Said Saïoud, the governor of Oran.

According to the governor, the project, commissioned by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, will include a statue of Emir Abdelkader and a museum that will recount his journey and history. The project is estimated at a cost of 1.2 billion Algerian dinars, equivalent to approximately $8.5 million, confirming that the financial framework had been officially secured.

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The statue of Emir Abdelkader will depict him mounted on a horse and wielding a sword. The governor of Oran emphasised that the blade would be equipped with laser technology pointing towards the Muslim Qibla in Mecca. The horse will have five supports representing the five pillars of Islam.

Surrounding the statue is a park with a terrace extending over 20 metres, offering panoramic views of the entire city of Oran and its internationally renowned bay. According to the governor, the project’s feasibility study will commence soon, with completion expected by the end of 2024.

The governor’s remarks and the project quickly sparked discussions and became a trending topic on social media platforms. Opinions varied, with some defending and others criticising the project, particularly its cost, especially amidst the devastating floods that have affected certain regions of the country. Additionally, some even raised religious concerns and the prohibition of statues.

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Emir Abdelkader holds a special place in the hearts of Algerians. He is a global figure known for his asceticism, mysticism and promotion of peace. The Emir, born in September 1808 in the Mascara region of western Algeria, was recognised as a political and military leader who led a popular resistance against the French invasion of Algeria for fifteen years. He was distinguished as a statesperson who laid the foundations of modern Algerian statehood.

After his capture, he was exiled to Syria, where he dedicated himself to Sufism, philosophy, writing and poetry. He played a significant role in quelling sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians in Syria. The Emir passed away in Damascus on 26 May, 1883, and his remains were repatriated to Algeria after gaining independence.

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