- Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers by Elaine Mokhtefi
In Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers, Elaine Mokhtefi offers a fascinating memoir of her years as a young Jewish-American idealist who became intimately involved with early Algerian politics and that nation's hosting of the Black Panther Party's International Section. In 1834, Algeria became a French colony. In 1954, the Front de Libération [End Page 445] Nationale (FNL), an Algerian revolutionary movement, broadcast calls to Algerian Muslims to join a fight to create a socialist state inspired by the principles of Islam. After years of struggle, Algeria gained independence in 1962. Ahmed Ben Bella became Algeria's first president. In June 1965, Houari Boumédiène seized power in a coup and for the next decade pursued a policy of nonalignment but supported freedom fighters and gave assistance to anticolonial movements in the global South.
In 1960, at an international youth conference in Accra, Mokhtefi, who was still using her maiden name, struck up a friendship with Frantz Fanon, an ambassador for the provisional government of the Algerian Republic. Later, in New York City, she met Abdelkader Chanderli, the head of the unofficial Algerian mission at the United Nations. Chanderli invited Mokhtefi to join his team, which was lobbying UN member states to support Algerian independence. In 1962, after independence was achieved, she went to Algeria to work in Ben Bella's press and information office, staying on after the coup that brought Boumédiène to power. Fluent in French, she established a wide range of contacts as a result of her translation services to various governments and revolutionary organizations.
Late one night, she received a phone call from the representative of the Zimbabwe African People's Union, who told her that Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was in Algiers and needed help. She met with Cleaver and his wife, Kathleen, who was eight months pregnant. Mokhtefi convinced the Algerian government to allow Cleaver and his fellow Blank Panthers to remain in the country. From then on, she became Cleaver's confidant and aide. She did more than any other person to help the Black Panthers get established in Algiers. She arranged Cleaver's visits to the ambassadors of North Vietnam, China, and North Korea and to representatives of the Palestinian liberation movement and the Vietcong, accompanying him on these trips. She also helped arrange for the International Section of the Black Panther Party to be recognized as a sponsored liberation movement, which gave it access to a range of privileges and a monthly government stipend. The FLN assigned the Black Panthers a villa that had formerly been occupied by the Vietcong delegation. It also provided the Black Panthers with telephone and telex connections and Algerian identification cards, which permitted them to enter and leave Algeria without visas.
Mokhtefi asserts that Cleaver and the Black Panthers seemed to be oblivious to the conservative nature of Algerian government and society, the social [End Page 446] restrictions placed on women, and the anti-black racism prevalent in Algerian society. Cleaver failed to understand that the Algerian government's generosity required certain codes of conduct and reciprocity on the part of their guests. The Panthers ignored local cultural rules. Cleaver acquired an Algerian mistress, while other Black Panthers openly dated Algerian and European women. Throughout the book, Mokhtefi describes her complicated relationship with Cleaver. Although she admired his revolutionary fervor, she is critical of his misogynist actions and beliefs. Her relationship with Cleaver became more strained after Cleaver admitted that he had killed a fellow Black Panther for allegedly having a sexual relationship with his wife.
In 1972, a group of American-born terrorists who supported the Black Panthers hijacked two American airliners to Algeria along with $1.5 million in ransom money. Must to the chagrin of the Black Panthers, the Algerian authorities returned the airliners and ransom money to the United States. When Cleaver wrote a disrespectful letter to Boumédiène about this incident, Algerian authorities sealed off the Black Panthers' headquarters...