Bouteflika’s mosque seen as monument to megalomania in Algeria

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This photo shows the Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el Djazair, in Algiers on April 14, 2019. (AFP)
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This picture shows the Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el Djazair, in Algiers on April 13, 2019. (AFP)
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This picture shows the Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el Djazair, in Algiers on April 14, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 16 April 2019

Bouteflika’s mosque seen as monument to megalomania in Algeria

  • With space for up to 120,000 faithful, the Great Mosque of Algiers will be the world’s third largest after those in Makkah and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites, in Saudi Arabia

ALGIERS: Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika may be gone, but his unfinished Great Mosque of Algiers looms large as a symbol of his 20-year reign and, many say, his megalomania.
Built with the nation’s vast oil wealth, the monument on the Bay of Algiers will be the world’s third biggest mosque and Africa’s largest, also boasting the tallest minaret anywhere at 265 meters (870 feet).
From his car, Kader, a resident of the capital, looked at the impressive structure and conceded that “it’s true that it’s beautiful.”
“But for me, it means nothing, this mosque,” he added. “It’s just a pile of rocks.”
The majestic white building, known locally as the Djamaa El-Djazair, sprawls across 20 hectares (50 acres), and its silhouette can be seen from across the capital region.
But it has few defenders among the people of Algiers, where many dismiss it as a vanity project of the 82-year-old deposed leader and an immense waste of public money.
The initial cost estimate of 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) has long been overrun and the construction, launched by a Chinese company in 2012, is more than three years behind schedule.

“There are mosques every 500 meters in this country, we didn’t need that,” said an exasperated 68-year-old Zhora.
Algeria, Africa’s largest country, has more than 20,000 mosques.
One of them, a small, immaculate neighborhood mosque, sits about 100 meters behind the lavish structure in a residential district where laundry dries on the balconies of buildings dotted with satellite dishes.
A 70-year-old resident sitting on the sidewalk recounted witnessing the impressive dome grow day by day from his window.
“It’s true, it’s a masterpiece, but... what we need are hospitals,” he said.
Algeria, with 40 million inhabitants, does slightly better than Morocco in terms of hospital beds per inhabitant, and somewhat worse than Tunisia, according to the WHO.
The National Agency for Health Institutions in 2015 noted that Algeria’s university hospitals date to colonial times and are “mostly a century old.”
Health workers’ unions regularly denounce the lack of medical staff and equipment in public hospitals.
“I have nothing against this mosque, but these billions could have been used to improve a health system that really needs it,” said Imene, a 26-year-old doctor.
On social networks, petitions have been launched to transform the Great Mosque into “Algeria’s largest hospital.”

With space for up to 120,000 faithful, the Great Mosque of Algiers will be the world’s third largest after those in Makkah and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites, in Saudi Arabia.
In addition to a 20,000-square-meter (215,280-square-foot) prayer room, it will include a Qur'anic school, library, cultural center and vast gardens.
To many Algerians, it symbolizes the misguided vision of a leader who desperately clung to power despite age and illness, and his backers.
“This mosque just shows that they are all thieves,” said Fella, 52, who has been active in the protest movement against the “system” since it began on February 22.
She said Bouteflika “wanted to compete” with regional rivals by overshadowing Morocco’s Hassan II mosque in Casablanca and Tunisia’s mosque built by another fallen autocrat, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
In Algiers, police still guard the construction site, which so far is only accessible to the workers.
“Bouteflika wanted his mosque, that’s all. This mosque is his mark,” said Mourad, a 47-year-old resident.
“The worst thing is that we can’t even get in there,” he added.
A few blocks away, 42-year-old shop owner Radia commented on the unfinished dream of Bouteflika, who has rarely been seen in public following a stroke in 2013 that affected his speech and left him wheelchair-bound.
“Bouteflika made this great mosque for himself, and now he won’t even be able to go and pray in it,” she said


Tulips from Amsterdam? A blooming scam, says new probe

This file photo taken on March 6, 2003 shows bulbs at the flower market in Amsterdam. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2019

Tulips from Amsterdam? A blooming scam, says new probe

  • Tulip bulbs should only be sold between August to December and planted before the start of the (northern hemisphere) winter, in order for the flowers to bloom in spring

THE HAGUE: Tourists are being ripped off at Amsterdam’s famous flower market, with just one percent of all bulbs sold at the floating bazaar ever producing a blossom, investigators said Tuesday.
A probe commissioned by the Dutch capital’s municipality and tulip growers also found that often only one flower resembled the pictures on the packaging like color, and that there were fewer bulbs than advertised.
“The probe showed that there is chronic deception of consumers,” at the sale of tulip bulbs at the flower market, the Royal General Bulb Growers’ Association (KAVB) said.
“Millions of tourists and day-trippers are being duped,” KAVB chairman Rene le Clercq said in a statement.
Amsterdam and the KAVB have now referred the matter to the Dutch consumer watchdog.
The Amsterdam flower market is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and dates from around 1862, when flower sellers sailed their barges up the Amstel River and moored them in the “Singel” to sell their goods.
Its fame inspired the popular song “Tulips from Amsterdam,” best known for a 1958 version by British entertainer Max Bygraves.
Today the market comprises of a number of fixed barges with little greenhouses on top. Vendors not only sell tulip bulbs but also narcissus, snowdrops, carnations, violets, peonies and orchids.
But of 1,363 bulbs bought from the Singel and then planted, just 14 actually bloomed, the investigation said.
Investigators found a similar problem along the so-called “flower bulb boulevard” in Lisse, a bulb-field town south of Amsterdam where the famous Keukenhof gardens are also situated.
Since first imported from the Ottoman Empire 400 years ago, tulips “have become our national symbol and the bulb industry a main player in the Dutch economy,” said Le Clercq.
But the “deception about the tulip bulbs is a problem that has been existing for the past 20 years,” he added.

The victims are often tourists, KAVB director Andre Hoogendijk said.
“A tourist who buys a bad bulb is not likely to come back,” he told Amsterdam’s local AT5 news channel.
Vendors at the market told AT5 that complaints were known.
“There are indeed stalls here that sell rubbish. That is to everyone’s disadvantage, because it portrays the whole flower market in a bad light,” one unidentified vendor said.
But a spokesperson for the City of Amsterdam said that all vendors were being investigated “and that the results are shocking.”
“So to say that it is only a few stalls is not true,” the spokesperson told AFP in an email.
The probe took place earlier in the year during springtime, the spokesperson said.
“The issue is that you shouldn’t even sell tulip bulbs during the spring. No decent florist shop in Holland does that.”
Tulip bulbs should only be sold between August to December and planted before the start of the (northern hemisphere) winter, in order for the flowers to bloom in spring.