I recently came across a very illustrative quote from a survey specifically focusing on minor political actors in Algeria - party cadres, journalists, bureaucrats, businessmen, trade unionists, etc:
"To a limited extent, the only space open to [political] actors with little or no knowledge of French were independent unions, independent NGOs, the Arabic press and Islamist parties. This tendency was illustrated by the fact that third-generation elites barely speaking French - only one out of ten interviewees - came from one of these domains. Most other interviewees were either Francophone or bilingual, the latter having difficulties determining which language they considered to be their mother tongue [a footnote suggests she means "primary language"]. The same interviewee often gave different answers depending on whether he filled in this author's questionnaire prior to the interview, or whether he was asked in the course of an interview what language he felt most comfortable speaking and writing. A huge majority of the third-generation interviewees according to their own assessment were better with written French than Standard Arabic. As far as oral skills went, a third of the interviewees said they spoke Standard Arabic as well as or better than French. Over half the interviewees put their oral French skills at the same level as their command of Algerian Arabic or Kabyle Berber dialect, and one out ten claimed to speak French better than anything else." (Isabelle Werenfels, Managing Instability in Algeria, pp. 85-6)This kind of situation is a recipe for resentment. The government has spent years educating people to be better at Standard Arabic and telling them that it was everyone's duty to use it rather than French; but unfortunately their passion for reform, after creating legions of eager Standard Arabic-using job-seekers, stopped at the gates of the Civil Service. Check out Algerian government websites sometime - many of them don't so much as have Arabic versions (eg Energy, Health,
As always, I think language skills should be a barrier only when they're necessary in themselves, not merely as a badge of class membership (and regionalism - people from Algiers or Kabylie are enormously more likely to speak good French than people from, say, the Sahara.) I'd certainly prefer Standard Arabic to French - it's much more like Algerian Arabic than French is, and more a part of Algeria's identity - but in the long run it would be better to create a situation where people could use their own mother tongue for official purposes.