By Massoud Hayoun
World Affairs Journal - January/February 2013
In 2011, when Algeria’s Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdallah
Ghlamallah awarded the contract to build the Grand Mosque of Algiers,
the third-largest such structure in the world, it did not go to a
homegrown Algerian bidder nor to one based in a fellow Muslim-majority
Arab nation like Lebanon, nor even to one in a nearby non-Muslim nation
like Spain, with long connections to the Islamic world. The February
2011 contract-signing ceremony officially granted the $1.3 billion
mega-project to a farther away and far less likely competitor—a
state-owned Chinese enterprise.
Beijing’s infrastructure giant, China State Construction Engineering
Corp. (CSCE), is expected to complete the Algiers mosque project—a
complex that will span more than fifty acres with room for as many as
one hundred and twenty thousand congregants to bow down in prayer at one
time—in just under four years. It would be a follow-up to another CSCE
mega-project in Algeria—the country’s $11 billion East-West Highway, a
seven-hundred-and-fifty-mile, six-lane freeway stretching between
Algeria’s borders with Morocco and Tunisia, built with oil revenues and
billed as the world’s largest public works project.
Ten thousand Algerians will eventually work on the mosque. So will
seven thousand Chinese. These imported workers will find a thriving
Chinatown in the suburbs of the capital of Algiers, filled with shops,
restaurants, and population densities that will remind them of home.
They will also find a robust Algerian police presence protecting them
from outbursts of local hostility that have broken out over the last few
years in response to what some Algerians regard as too much power by
Beijing in the country’s economy and too little cultural sensitivity on
the part of the workers it sends there.