Around 99 percent of Algeria’s population is Sunni Muslim but the number of Christians has been rising due to an influx of migrants from sub-Saharan countries such as Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
The market, organized by the Caritas charity, is also a sign of stable security in a country that has rebounded from a decade of Islamist militant violence during which 200,000 people died.
Diplomats used to hunker down in fortified embassies, rarely venturing out, but now live alongside Algerians in residential quarters. No militant attack has been reported in Algiers for more than 10 years.
Caritas staged a similar Christmas market last year but kept it low profile. This year it advertised the market in advance, calling for a “living together” between Christians and Muslims.
No official figure is available for the number of African migrants, but some estimates put it at around 100,000.
“It is not about making money, but rather about using the money to help the most vulnerable, whether Algerians, African migrants or Syrians,” Caritas Algeria director Maurice Pilloud said.
Veiled Muslim women mix with foreigners at the market in Algiers’ El Biar district, where honey, chocolate, cakes, jewelry and trinkets are sold. Many donations came from Muslims, said Pilloud.
The market offers the chance for young people to make a contribution to society in a political system where the ruling party has dominated all aspects of the oil-producing North African state since independence in 1962.
“Charitable work remains most attractive for a majority of young Algerians who shun political action because it doesn’t bring change,” said Cherif Lounes, 47, who was visting the market along with his mother.
“We need 50 Caritas associations in Algeria to help the vulnerable, whether Algerians or migrants,” added Saida, his 79-year-old mother.