Khadija Ben Hamou, the 2019 winner of the Miss Algeria pageant, has not only been bombarded with racist comments by some social media users on the basis of her skin colour and facial features but “degrading and retouched photographs” of her have also been circulated. The message from her critics is that she does not represent the beauty of Algeria, despite the fact that she made it through 20 rounds of the competition before being crowned. This made her the second darker-skinned Algerian to win the pageant, after Nassima Mokadem, who was awarded the title in 2005.

Ben Hamou, who comes from the southern Adrar region, where discrimination against dark-skinned Algerians is common, told local media, “I will not back down because of the people who criticised me. I am honoured that I have achieved my dream, and I am honoured by the state of Adrar, where I come from.”

In a different interview with the local El-Djazairia One Channel she added, “To those who criticise me, I ask Allah the Almighty to bring them back to the right path. On the other hand, I thank those who encouraged me,” she stated.

The organisation that runs the “Miss Algerie” beauty pageant has expressed its disapproval over the racist abuse Ben Hamou has had to endure. In a statement on their Facebook page the organisation said, “Hello everyone, the organisers of Miss Algeria deplores the behaviour and racist comments of several people following the publication of degrading and retouched photos. We give you two pictures of our pretty Miss Algeria 2019 while waiting. Others will follow soon.”

Racism in North Africa

Being black or darker skinned in North Africa and the Middle East is steeped in racism and the lack of a sense of belonging. Gal-dem.com discusses this less frequently acknowledged caste system in the Arab world, where there is a clear preference for fairer, Eurocentric features which has resulted in institutional and social racism.

The ingrained idea that black skin is somehow “sub-human” has led to discrimination against not only African Muslims but also dark-skinned Arabs. “The term ‘black Arab’ could refer to someone of mixed African and Arab heritage or someone who is a dark-skinned Arab. In the modern world, of the 22 countries that categorise themselves as “Arab”, eight have predominantly dark-skinned inhabitants and the others contain black Arabs,” reports gal-dem.

The inability of many countries in North Africa and the Middle East to admit that a caste system exists based on skin tone and colour is the reason that colourism in those regions prevails unchecked.