Fatah Hafassa lived in Las Cruces for 12 years and still owns International Delights Cafe. Now he’s seeking to represent what may be one of the largest legislative districts in any government in the world.
If you’ve ever eaten at International Delights Cafe in Las Cruces, you may have seen Fatah Hafassa working there.
Hafassa is an Algerian living in the United States. After a brief stint in California in the 1990s, he moved to Las Cruces and started the restaurant in 1998. He still owns it today, though he and his family moved to Virginia in 2010.
Now he’s seeking to represent what may be, geographically, one of the largest legislative districts in any government in the world.
The Algerian Parliament includes eight seats for Algerians living in other countries (there are about 37 million people in Algeria, and 2 million Algerians living abroad). Hafassa is running to represent a massive area – Zone 4, which includes North America, South America and all of Europe except France.
The elections run from May 5-10, and the protests and demonstrations that have spread across the Arab world since December 2010 are a big factor.
This election is something the “ruling elite, in power for 50 years, hopes will soak up the pressure for change that has been building since the ‘Arab Spring’ revolts in neighboring countries,” according to Reuters.
Hafassa is running on a platform of getting Zone 4 Algerians – particularly youth – more involved in their homeland.
“The upcoming elections of May 5th-10th will provide a unique opportunity for all of us to maintain our connection with the homeland, our commitment to our Algerian identity regardless of where we reside and an appreciation to our host countries,” Hafassa wrote in a message posted on his campaign website.
You can follow his campaign travels on Facebook. Hafassa has recently been in Houston, New York and Montreal, and also made an appearance on Aljazeera TV to discuss the elections.
From Algeria to Europe to America
But until a couple of years ago, Hafassa spent his days in Las Cruces, running his business, which now includes a grocery store in the same shopping center as International Delights, and a second, smaller restaurant on the NMSU campus. Today, Hafassa says, the business employs 28 people in the Las Cruces area. A photo of Hafassa posing with U.S. President Barack Obama, which was taken during an Obama campaign stop in Las Cruces in 2008, hangs on the wall at the original restaurant.
In 2003, Hafassa enrolled at New Mexico State University. He earned a master’s degree in political science with a focus in international relations. While in Las Cruces, he also helped found the local Islamic Center and, his website states, was involved in the “smart growth” movement.
He seems to have been moving toward a run for office since he left Algeria in 1988. Hafassa, who was born in Algiers in 1969, left 19 years later for London and Switzerland to “seek more education in world politics,” according to his website After he returned home to fulfill his obligation to serve in the military, he moved to the United States.
With the political science degree and successful small business from his time in Las Cruces on his résumé, Hafassa is making his case to Algerians in the Americas and Europe. But what’s most important, it seems from his website, is his connection to his homeland.
“While immersed in the culture of the United States, Fatah never forgot his roots and continued strong ties with the homeland by travelling there frequently with his family and maintaining relationships,” his website states. “A businessman, family man and community leader, Fatah is the right representative for the Algerian Diaspora.”
He’s pledging to work to maintain and strengthen the connection between Algerians in the zone and their homeland. That includes educating youth on the importance of participation in their government and about the “Algerian identity.” Among his proposals are programs to allow Algerians abroad to participate in the nation’s social security retirement system, fund youth trips to their homeland to participate in community service and volunteer programs such as teaching foreign languages, and college financial aid for Algerians living in Zone 4.
The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria is located in Northwest Africa. Algiers, where Hafassa was born, is its capital. A Wikipedia article states that Algeria “is an authoritarian regime, according to the Democracy Index 2010. The Freedom of the Press 2009 report gives it rating ‘Not Free.’”
More, from a Wikipedia article on the nation’s politics:
“Politics of Algeria takes place in a framework of a presidential republic, whereby the President of Algeria is head of state while the Prime Minister of Algeria is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the People’s National Assembly and the Council of the Nation. Algeria has a long history of revolution and regime change, making the political climate dynamic and often in a state of change. The country is currently a constitutional republic with a democratically elected government, though the military, in practice, remain major powerbrokers. Since the early 1990s, a shift from a state capitalist to a free market economy has been ongoing with official support.”
Presidents were limited to two, 5-year terms until 2008, when term limits were eliminated.
Here’s more on the politics of the election and the “Arab Spring” from Reuters:
“Wary that the May 10 election could be the catalyst which brings upheaval spilling over from its neighbors, authorities have tried to counter the ‘Arab Spring’ with their own, re-branded version that favors managed transition over revolution.
“The official slogan of the election, repeated in commercials running on state television, is: ‘Algeria is our spring.’
“The country’s rulers have heeded pressure for reform by easing restrictions on political parties and making the election process more transparent.
“The next parliament, as a result, is likely to be more lively and diverse and have a large contingent of moderate Islamist parties, reflecting a trend across the region in the aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring.’
“But opponents say the authorities’ moves towards reform are window dressing and that they will still not allow any genuine challenge to their hold on power.”