“How a frenzied and confounding rally of dual Algerian citizens led to the retrieval of a valuable manuscript for the country”
In early April 2023, Algeria miraculously reclaimed an Islamic manuscript dating back to the 17th century. Remarkably, the document had been seized by French colonial authorities in 1842, and was even slated to be sold at auction in France.
However, a tenacious group of Algerian dual citizens revived hope for the people when they rallied to prevent the sale. The story goes something like this.
Algeria’s prized possession represents a significant stride toward recovering its legacy, considering the manuscript had been pilfered after a French army attack on Ouarsenis Mountains, where the Algerian war hero and resistance icon Emir Abdelkader was known to dwell.
On April 5, Algeria’s Foreign Ministry jubilantly announced the manuscript’s full restitution, which had been derailed from its prior arrangement to be auctioned off in France.
The genesis of the movement reclaiming the manuscript began online, when a post by auction house Ruellan Auction advertised the sale. Several Algerian dual citizens—mainly young—then rallied to get in touch with the auction house, the nearest consulate—in Nantes, western France—and Algerian public authorities.
As a last-ditch effort, some members launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy the manuscript, just in case preventing the auction was impossible.
Their efforts paid off, as the auction was eventually canceled, and the document is now in the Algerian authorities’ hands. Algeria sees this outcome as a demonstration of patriotism by Algerians living abroad, one that honors their community overall.
The Foreign Ministry views it as a symbol of Algerians’ love for their country’s history and legacy, highlighting the manuscript’s rarity, historical value, and symbolism.
🔴🇩🇿 FLASH – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announces receiving the Islamic manuscript from 1659. Thanks to your efforts that prevented the auction. The ministry thanks you.
This book had been confiscated by the French during an attack on Emir Abdelkader. pic.twitter.com/edXk3bONZ3
— Union Algérienne ☪︎ (@UnionAlgerienne) April 5, 2023
Harrys Brikh, a representative of the Union Algérienne, a social media collective actively involved in reclaiming the manuscript, stated that the manuscript is essential to all Algerians because it belongs to and belonged to Emir Abdelkader, the father of modern Algeria and a constant presence in Algerian history. He was a symbol of resilience, a firm believer in humane treatment towards detainees, and an exemplary figure for Algerians worldwide. The book is written in Arabic by Al-Hadi Abu Srour Ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Abbadi al-Shafi’i from Cairo. The authorities will study its contents in detail, and historians from Algeria will ultimately preserve it in a museum. As Brikh declares, ‘We, as the Algerian diaspora, had a mission to reclaim this manuscript and worked tirelessly to achieve this goal because it embodies Algeria’s patrimony. Often, we tend to overlook the youth’s commitment to their heritage. The young Algerians are very passionate about Algeria’s historical legacy.’
Ruellan Auction, when contacted, refused to comment on this restitution.
The return of the manuscript coincides with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s upcoming state visit to France in June. His original trip was scheduled for May.