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Posts Tagged ‘Algeria’

Algeria votes for new parliament

May 10th, 2012 Comments off

Voting is underway in Algeria for parliamentary elections billed by the authorities as historically transparent but analysts say voter apathy is widespread.
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Algeria’s national ‘protesta’ | The Middle East Channel [del.icio.us]

January 19th, 2011 Comments off

Hugh Roberts on the protests in Algeria.
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After Tunisia, attempted suicides by fire hit Algeria

January 17th, 2011 Comments off

A wave of public suicides by fire across Algeria mirror the early days of Tunisia's uprising, but may carry a different message.
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Facebook Has More Arab Members than All Arab Newspaper Readers Combined

May 25th, 2010 Comments off

A new report says that Facebook now has 15 million subscribers in the Arab world while all Arab newspapers — in Arabic, French and English combined — sell ony 14 million copies.

That link is to a BBC story. You can find the summary from Spot On Public Relations (a Dubai-based PR firm) here. The full report in PDF is here. (And yes, the PR firm is on Facebook.)

Some of their findings from their website:

MENA’s top five Facebook country markets, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, account for 70% of all users in the region.

50% of MENA Facebook users have selected their primary language for using Facebook as English, with 25% preferring French and just 23% Arabic.

Only 37% of Facebook users in MENA are female (compared with 56% in the USA and 52% in the UK). Only Bahrain and Lebanon Facebook communities approach gender equality with female users accounting for about 44% of total users.

The GCC has five million Facebook users, which Saudi Arabia and the UAE representing 45% and 31% of that total respectively.

North Africa has 7.7 million Facebook users, with Egypt accounting for 3.4 million users (or 44% of all North Africa users). Egypt has the largest Facebook community in MENA.

Francophone countries Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia together account for 3.7 million French speaking Facebook users, equivalent to nearly 25% of all MENA users.

As the BBC report notes, the study doesn’t go into how many of these users are using Facebook: political activisim gets a lot of attention but presumably there’s a lot of the same kind of social chatter we see in the West; the Middle Easterners I’m linked to on Facebook seem all over the place in what they post.

And of course, if you equate the sale of one copy of a newspaper with its having one reader, you’ve never been in a Middle Eastern coffeehouse.


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Costa Gravas’s "Z"

May 6th, 2010 Comments off

My favorite political film of all time is Costa Gravas’ “Z”, an allegory about the political situation in Greece in the late 1960s made shortly after the Colonels’ Coup there. It was shot in recently liberated Algeria, with a smattering of great French actors like Yves Montand and Jean-Louis Trintignant and the fantastic music of Mikis Theodorakis, who mixed martial beats with the ticks of an IBM Selectric typewriter in a fantastic final scene in which military coup plotters are charged with the murder of Montand’s assassinated politician. Trintignant’s prosecutor who investigates the assassination, with his hyper-chic graduated shades, stays icily cool as he is put under pressure to bury the case. It is a case study in how dictatorships and police states work.

For me, “Z” is not only a perfectly executed political thriller, but a fantastic testimony of the political solidarity that existed across the Mediterranean against a series of takeovers by reactionary forces in the 1960s, often with the backing of the CIA. (Indeed, for much of the world, the 1960s were not a period of great liberation and free love as Westerners tend to remember, but of the establishment of tyrannies.) The irony of course is that “Z” was itself shot in Boumedienne’s Algeria, the product of a coup against Ben Bella which rid the country of any democratic, constitutional institutions.

Many of the scenes in “Z” will seem eerily familiar to Egyptians and others in this region, from the use of plainclothes thugs against democracy activists to the ubiquity of police and army officers and their plots against any challengers. (Right now, an Egyptian might replace “Z” with “B”…) 

I mention this because AUC is hosting Costa Gravas tonight (details after the jump) in a panel discussion with veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and French journalist and diplomat Eric Rouleau. 



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Mossad in Algeria

May 5th, 2010 Comments off

Here’s an odd story:

Algerian authorities have arrested an Israeli Mossad agent carrying a fake Spanish passport in the city of Hassi Messaoud near an Egyptian office providing service for oil companies, Algerian Ennahar El Djadid newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to the Algerian sources, the Mossad agent entered Algeria under the fake identity of a 35-year old Spanish man named Alberto Vagilo, and spent over ten days in the country prior to his arrest.

The report came a week after an Israeli citizen who went missing for several days in Algeria, who was also carrying a Spanish passport, raised suspicions that he might have been kidnapped by al-Qaida.

The man notified the Foreign Ministry that he contacted his family and that he was safe.

The Algerian paper also reported that the Mossad man received entry visas through a European embassy before traveling to the country via Barcelona.

According to the Algerian sources, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), John Pistole visited Algeria last Thursday to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli citizen, as there are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Algeria.

Ennahar El Djadid went on to report that the man has a good command of Arabic, is well acquainted with the city, and even participated in the Muslim prayers in the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque.

There are reports elsewhere that up to six Israelis have been arrested in Algeria, and that the affair is causing an inter-regime raucus. It’s all extremely strange — what would an Israeli operative be doing in Algeria, why would he be in oil-producing areas, what’s the role of the Egyptian firm involved, and how come this is all happening as Algeria’s state-owned oil company, Sonatrach, gets a new CEO after months of corruption investigations and apparent attempts at political destabilization? And how does it fit in the looming succession crisis over Bouteflika’s success, for now, in creating a relatively strong presidency? And what does it have to do with the War on Terror in the Sahel?



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Turkey and the Middle East

May 1st, 2010 Comments off
Hugh Pope debunks the idea that Turkey is turning towards Iran or seeking to lead an “Islamic bloc”:
In truth-as International Crisis Group argues in its new report Turkey and the Middle East: Ambitions and Constraints-Turkey’s rising profile in the Middle East is a complement to and even dependent on its ties to the West. The attempts to grow the regional economy, create interdependence and foster peace have the potential to stabilize an area that has been threatening to it in the past. And Turkey’s main motivation for doing this is not the resurrection of an Ottoman-style caliphate, but the fact that its interests are directly damaged by instability in the Middle East, and secondly its desire to secure and encourage new markets for its rapidly expanding industries.
In other words, Turkey is following the policy of a normal confident state: watching after its interest, stabilizing its neighborhood, and redressing the regional balance. But many other states in the region either act over-confident and constantly project and perceive threats (Israel, Iran), act only for short-term tactical goals (Syria), act with hyper-sensitivity and wounded pride (Egypt, Algeria, Morocco) or are so penetrated as to not be able to project a state policy (Lebanon). To find the quietly confident states, look at their economy and soft power. 
The ICG report is here.



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Fact-checking Hitchens on Animal Farm

April 18th, 2010 Comments off

Get it on Amazon.comThis morning I read this piece by Christopher Hitchens on Animal Farm, George Orwell’s classic work of political satire. It’s always great to read Hitchens on this kind of stuff, because of his Orwell fetishism, and well because he’s such a great writer when he writes about what he knows well, as opposed to endorsing late fascist1 dictatorships in the Arab world.

I have two issues with the piece. One is trivial. Hitchens offers this tantalizing morsel, but no interpretation:

There is, however, one very salient omission. There is a Stalin pig and a Trotsky pig, but no Lenin pig. Similarly, in Nineteen Eighty-Four we find only a Big Brother Stalin and an Emmanuel Goldstein Trotsky. Nobody appears to have pointed this out at the time (and if I may say so, nobody but myself has done so since; it took me years to notice what was staring me in the face).

That’s fascinating, I had never noticed it. It’s hard to believe that Orwell would have spared Lenin. But perhaps it’s that Stalin and Trotsky emerged rapidly as the prime engines of the Bolsheviks, each carrying out acts of mass violence (first Trotsky as army commissar during the civil war, then Stalin in his own military decisions during the civil war and later as architect of command center economics and permanent political terror.) Too bad Hitchens doesn’t elaborate.

The second thing comes at the end of the article, where he hopes that Animal Farm will come to the countries it is currently banned in, such as China, North Korea, Burma or Zimbabwe. He also writes:

In the Islamic world, many countries continue to ban Animal Farm, ostensibly because of its emphasis on pigs. Clearly this can not be the whole reason – if only because the porcine faction is rendered in such an unfavourable light – and under the theocratic despotism of Iran it is forbidden for reasons having to do with its message of “revolution betrayed”.

I don’t think this has been fact-checked. The Wikipedia entry “List of banned books” says:

In 2002, the novel was banned in the schools of the United Arab Emirates, because it contained text or images that goes against Islamic and Arab values.

There’s nothing on other countries. Reading Hitchens’ article, you’d think that there are no Arabic editions of Animal Farm. In fact you can get a bilingual Arabic-English edition here (or download a digital version) and, I would assume, the regular Arabic one in bookshops in most countries (hopefully not all editions have as ugly a cover as the one on the right.) You can find an extensive Arabic wikipedia entry here. Amazon.com sells an “Egyptian Animal Farm” in Arabic, by Mohamed Morsey, adapting Orwell to an Egyptian setting.2 If you’re a fan of the cartoon version3, you can get Arabic subtitles here.

I’d be willing to bet that Animal Farm is used in schools in various countries, too. If anyone has information on whether it is banned elsewhere, do let us know.

Footnotes:

1. “Late fascist”: A term I use to describe the political systems most of the Arab republics, in comparison to Franco’s Spain or Salazar’s Portugal in the late 1970s or similar regimes based on public mobilization where the original ideological edifice of the regime is spent. Will have to elaborate someday, but today it applies to Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. Also in some respects Iran. I think it may well have applied to most Eastern bloc countries in the 1980s.

2. It’s self-published, you can get more details here.

3. Watch it on YouTube or get it on torrent sites.



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WINEP and the lobby

April 13th, 2010 Comments off
It was delightful to read Stephen Walt’s rebuttal to WINEP’s Robert Satloff on the issue of “dual loyalty” and where WINEP stands. Let us be clear about this, it may be the case that WINEP produces decent material on, say, counter-terrorism in Algeria or the domestic politics of Oman. But on anything that touches Israel, and issues of interest to Israel like Iran, it is one of several think tanks that serve to produce ideological justifications for policies supported by the likes of AIPAC. That is its main and most important purpose, and to pretend otherwise is beyond hypocritical.
I remember attending a WINEP luncheon in Washington a few years ago. It was the kind of thing targeted at fundraisers and supporters, with Dennis Ross as key speaker. The person sitting to my left was a very nice elderly lady, half of a wealthy couple of Jewish retirees from upstate New York. The person sitting on my right was a young Jewish campus activist for Israel. That seemed to represent the range of people in the crowd, and audience and speakers were trying to outdo each other in Iran-bashing and support for Israel. I don’t think you see that at serious think tanks.
As M.J. Rosenberg, formerly of AIPAC and now of J Street, writes in his Talking Points Memo blog:

In my piece yesterday, I pointed out that I was in the room when the plan for WINEP was first drawn up. I was working at AIPAC and it was Steve Rosen who cleverly came up with the idea for an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would put forth the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections.

There was no question that WINEP was to be AIPAC’s cutout. It was funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located one door away, down the hall, from AIPAC Headquarters (no more. It has its own digs). It would also hire all kinds of people not identified with Israel as a cover and would encourage them to write whatever they liked on matters not related to Israel. “Say what you want on Morocco, kid.” But on Israel, never deviate more than a degree or two.

It’s always been slightly painful to see Egyptian friends — journalists, analysts etc. — take up a job at WINEP, which actively tries to recruit Arabs for fellowships to deflect its lobbying role. I understand why being given a nice salary and a year in Washington is appealing, but it smarts that WINEP is the organization doing this. I tease more mercilessly my American friends who’ve worked there (not on directly peace-process related issues), but they’ve moved on now. WINEP has a lot money to throw around, some good researchers, and can afford to buttress its claim of neutrality by hiring former officials and analysts who do not necessarily share their views on Israel — as long as they don’t work on the issue. Presumably the same people won’t speak out against the house line while they work there, either. 
In any case, that so many are taking Satloff down on his ridiculous claim of WINEP not being part of the lobby is very satisfying personally. In 2005, when I edited Cairo magazine, we ran article tying WINEP to AIPAC. Satloff sent us an angry letter. It was true that WINEP is not funded by AIPAC in a legal sense, but they share donors. Rosenberg elucidates the motive behind separating AIPAC’s research arm, then led by Martin Indyk (another person, alongside Dennis Ross, who has no business running US policy in the Middle East) with this tidbit from a reader:

WINEP was created initially at a time when AIPAC was in financial trouble and having a lot of problems raising money, so it was suggested, probably by Steve Rosen. (I was at the same meeting) that we split the AIPAC research department into two parts, a minor part to service the legislative lobbying, and the major part to become a 501(C)3 that could raise big bucks tax free unlike AIPAC itself which did not enjoy that tax status.

As you wrote, it was originally in AIPAC’s building and on the same floor but we started getting a lot of pressure from some of the other Jewish organizations which were worried that AIPAC would cut into their (C)3 fundraising.

As for funding, the Weinbergs were key and even worked out a deal with some big money folks who didn’t want to contribute to a political operation like AIPAC but would give to (C)3’s. So one could give to the (C)3 and someone else would match it for AIPAC.

This became the ultimate in interlocking directorates.

As Helena Cobban points out, some of us have been saying this for a long time. Kudos to Foreign Policy, TPM and of course the invaluable Mondoweiss for bringing this discussion out in the open. But this discussion should not only involve American Jews, it affects all of us. Talking about the “dual loyalty” problem is necessary — not because, as Satloff argued rather heinously, because people who doubt Ross’ neutrality on Israel are engaged in a McCarthyite and anti-Semitic campaign and believe Jews can’t be trusted (that accusation is the real canard), but because these people and these organizations have a clear record as lobbying organizations for a foreign government that make them poor choices as policymakers.
Consider also that Dennis Ross disagrees with Obama’s stated policy on both Iran and the peace process, and even his friend Aaron Miller thinks he’s too biased to be a fair negotiator between Israelis and Palestinians. Is it really too much to ask that he be taken off Middle East policy?
On a related note, I’ve had some fun making fake AIPAC logos, you can take a look at them here. They’re inspired by the commonsensical remarks made by Gen. David Petraeus about the peace process being important to American interests in the region, and how its undermining by the Netanyahu government (and previous Israeli administrations) is hurting those interests.



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Lamenting Ignorance of Modern Standard Arabic

April 13th, 2010 Comments off

Here’s a piece from The National from a few days ago, lamenting how poorly many Arabs speak Modern Standard Arabic. It opens with the oft-cited problems Lebanese Prime Minister Sa‘d Hariri had in addressing Parliament.

We’ve had occasion to discuss the diglossia issue several times on this blog, and I refer you to those earlier posts for background and details. I suspect that this article (which is, of course, published in English) somewhat overstates the case. Yes, many Arabs do not have a fluent command of Modern Standard Arabic, for the well-known reason that it is no one’s native tongue. It is a learned tongue, a classicized form of the colloquial Arabics everyone really speaks. The problem may be worse in Francophone countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Lebanon, where the colonial language enjoys great influence, or in the Gulf, where English is the language of business, and large numbers of expatriate workers speak little Arabic.

But it has long been true that most Arabs other than radio and television presenters, journalists and college professors, really had more need to read MSA than to write it. I’m sure Sa‘d Hariri speaks colloquial Arabic fluently (though probably Saudi rather than Lebanese dialect); King ‘Abdullah II of Jordan had the same problem when he ascended the throne after only a short tenure as Crown Prince; born of an English mother and educated abroad, his military career had presumably not required regular communication in literary Arabic.

But it seems extreme to suggest, as the editorialist does, that Modern Standard Arabic will die out if not emphasized more. The fundamental thing that has bound the various dialects of Arabic together, so that they do not separate as the Romance languages did from their Latin roots, is the Qur’an and the fact that the dialects are not themselves normally written (except for occasional plays or political cartoons). While that has impeded the spread of literacy, it has maintained a certain unity for the Arabic language, intimately tied, as it is, to Islam through the Qur’an.

And this is not a new circumstance. A century ago the colonial languages, English or French, would have prevailed; a bit earlier than that, Ottoman Turkish. But Arabic has not died out.


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