Gigantism, megalomania and religious influence: the policy of mosques is unfolding in the Maghreb

On the morning of February 25 (2024), the Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, arrived with great fanfare in eastern Algiers: after a journey through the winding streets of the capital, his procession stopped in front of the Great Mosque of Algiers (in Arabic, Djamaa El-Djazaïr). Tebboune got out of the car, a kachabia (a kind of coat with a hood which is distinguished from the burnous by the presence of long sleeves and a closure) in camel wool draped over the shoulders, and unveiled a black and gold plaque in front of a multitude of approved television cameras, thus officially inaugurating this extraordinary religious building.

It is probably no coincidence that the Grand Mosque finally opens its doors to the faithful during an election year. Completed at the right time five years ago, it was to be the cornerstone of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s electoral campaign in 2019, before he was unceremoniously ousted by Hirak, the vast popular protest movement. anti-government. However, it is not uncommon to hear some Algerians refer to the Grand Mosque under the name of “bouteflika mosque”.

By its spectacular dimensions, it is the largest mosque in Africa and the third largest in the world, behind the two most sacred in Islam, those of Mecca (Al-Haram Mosque). and Medina (or Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi, Mosque of the Prophet), (both located in Saudi Arabia).

Its construction cost some $958 million (885 million euros) and the building’s prayer room can accommodate up to 120,000 worshipers; its minaret, which rises to 265 meters, overlooks the bay of Algiers and dominates the city’s skyline.

In all Maghreb countries, these pharaonic projects often allow narcissistic leaders to leave their mark for posterity. In 2003, Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali had the El-Abidine Mosque built in Tunis (which, following the “Arab Spring”, was officially renamed the Malik Ibn Anas Mosque. (Arab-Muslim theologian of the 8the century. His teaching constitutes the legal and dogmatic foundation of the Maliki school, one of the four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islamic law, the majority in the Maghreb.)

Train African imams

On the Casablanca coast, King Hassan II left a similar mark with the mosque that bears his name, which was the largest in Africa before being dethroned by that of Algiers. Under the reign of the current King Mohammed VI, Morocco deployed a “diplomacy of

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