Algeria’s man in Bangkok: DR. Rachid Bouzennoun


 

DR. Rachid Bouzennoun is at the same time a successful Bangkok businessman and a dedicated representative of the Algerian Prime Minister’s party, the National Democratic Rally (RND). A devoted Muslim, he is a familiar figure within the diplomatic community, and rarely misses a National Day reception or other official function.

Born 42 years ago to a middle-class family in Algiers, the capital of Algeria, Dr. Bouzennoun studied economics and after university spent a short time on an internship with a company in Hong Kong before returning home. It wasn’t long before he took to the road again, this time to Thailand. He’s lived here ever since, running a successful trading company in Bangkok.

“For those who don’t know much about Algeria, it is a Muslim country located in northern Africa, sharing a 7,000 kms border with seven countries:

Libya, Mali, Mauretania, Morocco, Niger, Tunisia and  Western Sahara.

“Politics is in my blood and that’s why I represent the RND, not only in Thailand but in the whole of Asia. I was appointed to my position by a board member of the party who is in charge of the worldwide Algerian community, on behalf of the Algerian Prime Minister. It is a voluntary position. 

“The RDN is elected by the Algerian people to be one of the three leading parties. We like to have good relations with all political parties in Asia and, of course, with those in Thailand. In this respect, we cooperate with the Thai government in political, economic, social and other spheres.’’ 

Dr. Bouzennoun stays in contact with his family and party officials back home by Skype. “Every morning, when I wake up, the first thing I do is to read Algerian newspapers and watch television on the internet.”

When asked if he is married, Dr. Bouzennoun replied without embarrassment: “Nobody wants me.” But this is not entirely the case, according to his friends. “Maybe it is the other way around,” one diplomat said.  

When asked if he acts as an “unofficial ambassador” for Algeria, he replied: “Every Algerian or citizen of any other nation living away from their homeland is like an ambassador for his or her country and should always try to do the best for their country.

“There is no Algerian embassy in Thailand as yet. I hope this will change. We have one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which looks after Thailand,” Dr. Bouzennoun said.

“I don’t travel abroad as often as in the past, but I travel a lot within Thailand. I have already visited 53 provinces, with 22 left, and I’m sure I’ll visit them before I leave Thailand one day.

 ”While in the provinces, I meet with various people and want to know how they live, what is good or bad and what we can learn from this country in terms of agriculture, tourism, et cetera. As I am a Muslim, I meet with people from the Muslim communities, of course.

“I have also visited southern provinces, like Pattani and Narathiwat, and have found that Muslims there are the same as those I’ve met in other parts of Thailand. They are very nice and hospitable, not just to me because I am a Muslim, but to everyone.

“The problem in the South is very unfortunate and I hope it will be solved soon. The people in the South don’t like violence. They are against violence, just like people in other areas. Security for them is very important because when you feel secure then you are happy and comfortable both at your workplace and at home.”

He believes that Muslims are “the same everywhere, because Islam teaches us the same way.  I didn’t find any problems or conflict between the Shia and Sunni Muslims in the South or in other parts of Thailand. We are Muslims and we have one Prophet.

“Thai Muslims are part of Thailand and they want to live here. I have never heard Muslims saying they want to separate from Thailand. I hear this only in the media,” Dr. Bouzennoun said.

  “Many Muslims in Thailand have held or now hold high positions, like the president of Parliament and chief of the Army. Several ministers have been Muslims, and many Muslims have served and now serve in high government positions, or are top businessmen in the country.”

Dr. Bouzennoun expressed hope that the government will invest more in education, health care, culture and job creation, in order to provide people with more opportunities. 

He praises Thai people for their religious tolerance: “There is real freedom of religion in Thailand. I have friends who are Jews or Christians, who go to synagogues or church, and they all say the same thing. You can do whatever you want and practise any religion here without worry. I have never had any problem in Thailand because I am a Muslim.

“Many department stores, hotels and airports and other places have designated areas where Muslims can pray. Women wear the hijab, and no one here protests this, unlike other countries which are making laws against it,” said Dr. Bouzennoun.

“You can see now why so many people from Middle-Eastern countries want to visit Thailand. And many want to stay, because of the religious freedom here.”

Dr. Bouzennoun is obviously happy living in Thailand. “I like the people, the countryside and the food. You can go the beaches or mountains. I really enjoyed the celebrations to commemorate the 60thAnniversary of the coronation of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulaydej in 2006. It was amazing to see millions of people celebrating, all wearing yellow shirts. You could see how much the Thai people love the King.”

He also praised the wide variety of cuisine in Thailand: “You have so many choices in Thailand. You can eat what you want. What I don’t like is the food cooked on the footpaths. Maybe the food is delicious, but the hygiene is terrible.’’

Dr. Bouzennoun wants to encourage more Thais to visit his country. “Even though there’s no Algerian embassy in Thailand, visa applications can be done online. If approved, you can send the passport to Kuala Lumpur by DHL.”

The Algerian community in Thailand is small with not more than 200 people. “Most of them are businessmen, while some are Muay Thai boxers or teachers.

Asked about his work for charitable organizations, Dr. Bouzennoun said: “I am involved in many charities but I won’t name them. According to our religion this should be kept confidential.”

The 50th anniversary of Algerian independence on July 5 will be marked by a number of activities, an Algerian food festival, a photo exhibition and a night of Algerian music.

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