Posts Tagged ‘Algiers’

Founding father of Algeria dies

April 11th, 2012 Comments off

The first president of independent Algeria, Ahmed Ben Bella, dies at his home in Algiers after an illness, official media say.
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Azmi Bishara: «Le projet des élites dirigeantes arabes est de se maintenir au pouvoir» []

November 3rd, 2010 Comments off

Bishara says in Algiers that Arab states run by "cartels".
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The US, Iran & the Middle Easts new "Cold War"

April 2nd, 2010 Comments off

The Leveretts at the RFI/ here

The absence of US-Iranian rapprochement will perpetuate the new Middle Eastern Cold War, imposing costs on the United States, Iran and other regional and international players. However, in strategic terms, the heaviest costs of continued US-Iranian estrangement are likely to be borne by the United States. In particular, lack of productive relations with Tehran will contribute significantly to Washington’s failure to achieve important policy objectives in the Middle East, thereby conditioning further erosion of America’s regional standing and influence

This is the most important, “bottom-line” conclusion of our most recent article, “The United States, Iran, and the Middle East’s New ‘Cold War’” , just published in The International Spectator. The article argues that U.S.-Iranian relations “need to be analyzed and understood not only in terms of their bilateral dynamics, but also in their strategic context.” More specifically, we argue that “the relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic both shapes and is shaped by the new Middle Eastern Cold War”:

“As the new regional Cold War plays out, analysts suggest different scenarios for how the ongoing strategic competition between the United States and Iran will evolve. Some, like former Germany Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, see this competition as a struggle for regional hegemony in the Middle East comparable to that in late nineteenth century Europe following German unification; from this perspective, Fischer warns that, without careful handling, tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic could ultimately erupt in a large-scale military confrontation. Others, like Fareed Zakaria, believe that the United States and its regional and international partners will move inexorably toward a posture of containing and deterring the Islamic Republic and its allies, in a manner reminiscent of the West’s Cold War posture toward the Soviet Union.”
Against the backdrop of these scenarios, we argue that the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran should transcend the prospects for hegemonial war of strategic standoff and seek a fundamental realignment of their relations, in a manner similar to the realignment in relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China during Richard Nixon’s tenure in the White House. We further argue that such a fundamental realignment of US-Iranian relations can only be achieved through a comprehensive rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.”
On the Iranian side of the equation, we note that, “like the emergence of the Middle East’s new Cold War, the Islamic Republic’s rise has occurred during a still ongoing period of tectonic shifts in the region’s strategic environment”:

“These shifts include the effective collapse of the traditional Arab-Israeli peace process, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, the rise of Hezbollah and Hamas as political actors in their national and regional contexts, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and subsequent Israeli military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza, structural changes in global energy markets and a tremendous transfer of wealth to major Middle Eastern energy producers. All of these shifts are playing out against what is increasingly perceived, in the Middle East and elsewhere, as a decline in America’s relative power and influence.”

We note that, after President Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005, “the Islamic Republic was able to take advantage of these developments to effect a significant boost in its own regional standing.” But, we also note that a critical mass of Iranian elites,cutting across the Islamic Republic’s factional spectrum, continues to recognize that

“the Islamic Republic has basic national security and foreign policy needs which can only be met—or, only optimally met—through rapprochement with Washington. And, over the course of [the last 20 years], Iranian decision-makers have come to believe that the only reliable way to effect such a rapprochement is by forging a comprehensive set of strategic understandings with Washington.”

After tracing the evolution of the Islamic Republic’s post-1989 foreign policy toward the United States and other great powers, we take on some of the more common—and also more distorted and damaging—portrayals of Iranian foreign policy in the West:

“There has always been a current in Western analyses of Iranian politics that sees the Islamic Republic as too ideologically constrained and/or politically fractious to pursue a strategic opening to the United States. From this perspective a determinative portion of the Iranian leadership sees opposition to rapprochement with Washington as critical to regime legitimation and a weapon to use against political opponents. Since the Islamic Republic’s 12 June 2009 presidential election, such arguments have gained greater prominence in Western discussions of Iranian politics. But the historical record of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy since 1989 strongly suggests that this view is fundamentally mistaken.”

Notwithstanding an increasing interest in Tehran in forging closer ties to major Eastern powers—China, India, Russia—Iranian foreign continue “to be attracted by the prospective benefits of rapprochement with the United States.” To be sure, Iran does not want rapprochement with the United States at any price and, at this point, wants to define, a priori, a “comprehensive framework” for any sustained US-Iranian dialogue—

“a framework that would be clearly oriented toward fundamentally realigning US-Iranian relations, addressing the Islamic Republic’s security interests, recognising its regional role, and normalizing its international relations.” But, “even after the 2009 presidential election, there continues to be a critical mass of Iranian elites, cutting across the Islamic Republic’s factional spectrum, that is interested in rapprochement with the United States, within the parameters discussed above.”

On the American side, we argue that, “from an interest-based perspective, the imperatives for comprehensive realignment of US-Iranian relations are as compelling for Washington as they are for Tehran”:

“Looking ahead, how Washington deals with the Islamic Republic has become, in the context of the Middle East’s new Cold War, the primary litmus test for the future of America’s regional position. At this point in the evolution of the Middle East’s balance of power and geopolitical influence, the United States cannot achieve any of its high-priority objectives in the region—reaching negotiated settlements to the unresolved tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict, stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, containing terrorist threats from violent jihadi extremists, curbing nuclear proliferation, putting Lebanon on a more stable trajectory and ensuring an adequate long-term flow of oil and natural gas to international energy markets—absent a productive strategic relationship with Iran.”

Against this backdrop, we take on some of the more frequently-heard criticisms of our analogy between the reorientation of American policy toward China undertaken by President Nixon during the early 1970s and what we believe is the optimal course for America’s Iran policy today:

“Some observers question the parallel between the policy challenges confronting Nixon regarding China and those confronting decision-makers today regarding Iran, arguing that there was an immediate Cold War rationale for US-China rapprochement (to “triangulate” against the Soviet Union) that is absent in the Iranian case…Such a [perspective] defines both Nixon’s accomplishment vis-à-vis China and the contemporary challenge of Iran too narrowly. The primary impetus for US-China rapprochement was not a common enemy, but the need to align US and Chinese interests to deal with an array of strategic challenges; that is why the relationship established by Nixon and his Chinese counterparts has become even more important in the post-Cold War era. And, as with China in the 1970s, the United States today cannot address some of its most important foreign policy problems without a strategic opening to Iran.”

Not surprisingly, we argue that,

“to achieve this, Washington needs to pursue a genuinely comprehensive and strategic approach to diplomacy with Tehran. Such an approach would be grounded in a reaffirmation of America’s commitment in the Algiers Accord not to interfeere in Iran’s internal affairs and in the prospect of a US guarantee not to use force to change the borders of form of government of the Islamic Republic. It would seek to resolve major bilateral differences and channel Iran’s exercise of its regional influence in support of US interests and policies.” We note though that, “unfortunately, the United States—even with the Obama administration in office—has yet to pursue such an approach.”

Why has the United States—even under the Obama administration—not moved more purposefully to embrace comprehensive engagement with Tehran, aimed at a fundamental realignment of relations? We acknowledge that “part of the answer lies in domestic politics”. But

“a larger part of the explanation, in our view, lies in ongoing confusion among American foreign policy elites about two critical questions: The first of these questions is the relative stability/fragility of the Islamic Republic’s political order…The second of these questions is whether Tehran’s national security and foreign policy strategies are designed to resist aspects of US hegemony that threaten Iranian interests and regional prerogatives or to replace American hegemony in the Middle East with Iranian hegemony.”

We, of course, offer what we believe are clear and compelling answers to these questions. But,

“in the absence of intellectual consensus on these critical questions—or a clear presidential choice to deal with the Islamic Republic as it its presently constituted and seek rapprochement based on a balance of US and Iranian interests—US policy toward Iran has been and will remain, at best, incoherent.”

We conclude with a forecast that,

“because of the intellectual confusion and policy incoherence described above, US efforts to encourage internal liberalization and contain perceived Iranian threats will continue to undercut the credibility, in Iranian eyes, of whatever attempts Washington makes to engage diplomatically. And, thus, the United States—even under the Obama administration—will continue to fall short of the Islamic Republic’s minimum threshold for determining that Washington is finally serious about rapprochement.”

And that brings us to the closing passage that we cited at the outset of this piece:

“The absence of US-Iranian rapprochement will perpetuate the new Middle Eastern Cold War, imposing costs on the United States, Iran and other regional and international players. However, in strategic terms, the heaviest costs of continued US-Iranian estrangement are likely to be borne by the United States. In particular, lack of productive relations with Tehran will contribute significantly to Washington’s failure to achieve important policy objectives in the Middle East, thereby conditioning further erosion of America’s regional standing and influence.”

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Algerian War Chic

March 21st, 2010 Comments off

Nom de Guerre is a New York based fashion designer. For their Spring/Summer 2010 collection, they’ve decided to draw inspiration from the look of belligerents in Algeria’s war of independence, both on the Algerian side and the French OAS militia that tried to squash the independence movement. The result: epaulets, khaki shirts, camouflage pants, and more. It’s like extras from Battle of Algiers.

Here’s how they pitch it:

Via  Rue89 and @selim

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Alger Postcard

February 18th, 2010 Comments off

While looking over the postcards my grandmother saved from the start of the last century, I came across a beautiful street scene in Algiers, reproduced above. The card was sent from Italy in July, 1914 so it was obviously printed before then. It was addressed to my grandmother’s aunt, whose papers my grandmother inherited. The message itself is interesting in large part because it is so ordinary. The message reads:

Rome, 7/19/14
Dear Ida,
We have had a safe and happy journey so far, enjoying the beautiful stars en route. Went thro’ an Arab St. like this. I have bought some statuary which is being sent home to your address, and of necessity the duty, 75 cents about, must be paid at that end of the line. Am sorry to ask you to do it, but see no other way. We have seen some of the wonders of the “Eternal City.” Move on to Pisa and Florence tomorrow. A. K. Joy

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Egypt recalls ambassador in Algeria

February 7th, 2010 Comments off

Egypt summons ambassador after attacks against Egyptian fans in Sudan, businesses in Algiers, ministry says.
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AA Gill on Algeria

December 21st, 2009 1 comment

A suburb of Algiers by Flickr user Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

In this otherwise amusing if impressionistic piece from poor Algeria, always a favorite contender in the shortlist of most badly run Arab country, the Scottish columnist, restaurant critic, baboon hunter and Welsh-hater AA Gill has an odd passage claiming that think-tankers think Algeria is some bright, promising spot on the south Mediterranean shore:

It’s hard to credit that there are global security wonks and think-tank nerds who hold up Algeria as a model of a workable, acceptable, doable Arab republic, a possible poster boy for Iraq, now that the horrors of its civil war have dulled the edge of Islamic fundamentalism. There may even be somewhere in this place to interest the Middle East peace process. Seen from 20 storeys up and 10,000 miles away, in the air-conditioned and neon-lit offices, on a pie chart on a screen, Algeria’s mixture of a socialist, military, secular state with a Muslim population — a westernish Arab country that wears Nike and drinks beer and wants to sell stuff and buy things — looks like a good bet, a possible way forward. But down here on the street, without the benefit of the graph, the figures, the briefings and overviews, it seems astonishingly mad. The idea that Algeria could be anyone’s role model raises only a humourless snigger.

As a former think-tanker working precisely on this part of our benighted region, I ask Gill: pray tell, where are these Algeria experts who laud it as some kind of model? Enquiring minds want to know.

There are some other passages that will no doubt irk the notoriously short-tempered Algerians, such as this romantic idea of the French occupation:

The French didn’t just use Algeria for what they could get out of it; they did something far more damaging, far darker. The French fell in love, like an old man besotted by a young girl in a hot climate. The French imagined that with the power of their culture, their charm, their romance and a specially formed army of criminals they named the Foreign Legion, they could woo Algeria to become an exotic member of the family. It wasn’t simply a chattel, it was adopted and made part of France. Algerians voted in French elections, had deputies in Paris. More whites moved to Algeria than to any other African country. There were over a million French pieds noirs. They farmed a large percentage of the motherland’s fresh produce. They took the Bedouins as mistresses and occasionally wives. When the time came for the divorce, it was cruel and desperate. Fanned by great self-righteous self-pity, Algeria broke France’s heart and the French behaved like cuckolds. There was no sense of giving the nation back. This was the servants stealing the silver — a national humiliation, an act of betrayal.

Hmmm, by Bedouins does he mean les autochtones? Plenty of more faults there (the obligatory mention of the Corsairs and the US marines, the notion that French history starts with the French, etc.)

Another passage inflates Algeria’s importance in the current clash of civilisations. If only — Algeria is peripheral to the Arabs, peripheral to the world despite its importance as an energy supplier.

Algeria is the eye of a perfect storm of intolerance, the tsunami of postcolonial trauma coupled with the most nihilistic of 1960s -isms, Third World socialism, as well as authoritarian, reactive military juntas and Wahhabi sharia, all competing in a swamp of mass unemployment. It has a resentfully youthful population — almost a third are under 15. They hang out on corners, huddle and plot, race past on secret missions, mooch in gangs in the kasbah looking like greyhounds waiting for the white rabbit of no good to spin past. The boys are malevolently handsome, often strikingly beautiful, and they are the only people on earth who can make shopping-mall sports kit look chic and elegant. The names of the European football clubs on their backs mock the cul-de-sacs of their lives. On every spot of dusty land they kick balls, do press-ups, hang out with pit bulls on chains, tug at their own balls, smoke, have mock fights and wait for something to turn up.

I have to admit I do like Gill as a stylist, and that he does capture something of the Algerian pathos (albeit by no means a complete picture of it). Ultimately though this kind of writing may tell you more about the author and the snooty, insular country he hails from.

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The Algerian press & mass-market reach

December 1st, 2009 Comments off

I don’t have time to get into any detail here, or to find comparable up-to-date figures, but I’d just like to throw you a thought that has been with me for a while, which I hope someone more competent may carry further. Here’s what the European Journalism Centre has to say about Algeria’s printed-press landscape:

Algeria has about 50 daily or weekly publications. Most of them circulate 15.000 copies, roughly estimated. Only four newspapers are estimated to boast circulation greater than 50.000 copies: Arabic- language El Khabar (530.000); Le Quotidien d’Oran (140.000-198.000) Liberté (120.000- 150.000) and El-Watan (70.000-90.000) in French.

These must be old figures, since Ech Chorouk El Youmi actually passed El Khabar to become the biggest paper a few years back, also claiming around 500,000 copies. I don’t know which one is ahead at the moment, but as far as I know they’re both still up there at somewhere, both said to be above 400,000 copies/day + weekly supplements and such. In fact, Ech Chorouk claims to have temporarily broken the frankly incredible 2,000,000 limit during the recent Algerian-Egyptian football wars, where it played a leading part by publishing sensationalist claims of Algerian fans having been murdered (the paper shamelessly puts it down to its journalistic “rigour and professionalism”).

UNNAMED GENERAL TO PRES. BOUDIAF: "So, here's the program: Today you go to Algiers, on March 2 you go to Oran, on June 29 to Annaba … and on June 30, you'll be at El Alia." (Cartoon by DILEM.)

Recall: those papers are all privately owned. While not necessarily independent from the cirles of power, they definitely represent different perspectives and to some extent different interests. Liberté, for example, is identified with the ultrasecularist Berberist liberal party RCD, while the Arabophone El Chorouk tends to more Islamic perspectives, eg. running series with Sheikh Qaradawi. They have all had problems with the government at various points in their history, and while there are certainly areas they won’t touch, they can be quite outspoken in their criticism of the government. They tend to tread very carefully with the army and security issues, but President Bouteflika is regularly read the riot act in several of these papers. If they go much too far, they can certainly be shut down, as was the case of Le Matin (now only available online), but that is rare. In short, then, as far as press freedom goes, Algeria is much freer than full-blown dictatorships like Tunisia and Libya, but broadly similar to liberalized autocracies such as Egypt, Morocco and perhaps some other of the better-placed Arab countries — maybe Kuwait, perhaps Yemen, I don’t really know — although behind regional star Lebanon, and obviously Israel.

So in that way they are similar: many Middle Eastern countries have a semi-free press, which is mostly independent but not free to write what it wants. What is considered a red line varies from country to country, but on the whole, Algeria’s press appears about as free/unfree as that in Morocco or Egypt. But in one way, it really stands out. Rembember the print figures above? Now compare them with local giant Egypt (2006):

The announced circulation figures for local newspapers are generally seen as unreliable. The daily Arabic Al-Ahram says it sells approximately one million copies a day, as does Al-Akhbar. Al-Masri Al-Yom is believed to distribute between 10,000 and 50,000 copies a day. Topping the weekly independent newspapers is Al-Osbou, with a circulation of between 100,000 to 120,000 copies. It is followed by Al-Dostour, with between 80,000 to 90,000. The Nasserist Party’s mouthpiece Al-Arabi and the independent Sawt Al-Umma, are believed to distribute around 30,000 copies each.

(N.B. both Ahram & Akhbar are state-owned and benefit from government support. Algeria’s state-owned papers are El Moudjahid, El Chaâb, El Massa, and Horizons [website virus-alert] neither of which is widely read — they’re crap — but still massively distributed to public institutions and such, probably as part of some scheme to line politicians’ pockets.)

Compare those numbers. Then compare populations: Algeria ~35 mil, Egypt ~80 mil. More than twice the size. The same discrepancy is apparent if one compares with Morocco (similar size, at ~35 mil), where readership is really low, despite having some interesting papers — probably mostly because of it being a poorer country:

Newspapers in Morocco suffer from a fairly limited readership. In Morocco, which has 33,8 million inhabitants, all print media combined sell 350,000 copies/day, compared with 1,3 million copies in neighboring Algeria, which has 33,3 million inhabitants.

Again, a significant difference: the Algerian readership is measured at almost four times the Moroccan figure.

So, to conclude this rambling heap of unrelated statistics: it would quite simply seem that Algerian papers sell incredibly well, compared to Arab countries with a similar level of press freedom. Even if we assume that the Algerian print numbers above are too high, we could cut them in half, and they would still be eyebrow-raising figures. Why this is so, I’m sure one could speculate forever, but what I’m interested in here is the effect: even if Algerian papers are not exceptional for their content, their impact on public opinion must be proportionally far bigger than in comparable countries, simply because they are read so widely. Yet I’ve never seen this noted anywhere, even in literature on Arab media.

It would seem to me that the Algerian press gets far too little credit as a factor in public opinion, and in Algerian politics generally, since outside watchdogs tend to focus on the content and the limits of political reporting, rather than the actual reach of newspapers. While most private papers in Arab countries tend to cater to rather slim sections of elite opinion, Algeria’s papers have achieved at least some mass-market reach, while at the same time they remain reasonably independent and pluralist.

Of course, there’s no denying it, red lines persist in both domestic (eg. security issues & elite affairs) and foreign (eg. W. Sahara) policy. It’s obvious that the country is not in any way, shape or form a democracy, and that decision-makers will not respond to public opinon unless forced to. And compared to developed countries, say any in Europe, the Algerian print figures are obviously very low. But even under these circumstances, the Algerian press can clearly drive and shape policies at times, even when the state seems hesitant to pursue them, and this role may well come to grow in the future, as the press asserts its independence and censorship methods are blunted by technological developments.

Algerian fans holding a copy of an unidentified newspaper in protests against Egypt

The football riots of these past weeks are a case in point. Independent papers (presumably with the tacit acceptance of the government) were the ones to fan the flames, both in Algeria and Egypt. The press, more than television or radio, seems to have been the main force in mobilizing civil society — admittedly for a lousy goal* — in a way and with an effect rarely seen in this region. For all the overwhelming importance of al-Jazeera and other electronic media, it just seems to me that the influence of the printed press (and its online appendices) is underrated, as its popular impact slowly grows with literacy and increased independence. It could be a force for good — empowering civil society, such as it is — but also, as the above example shows, for bad: sensationalism and inflammatory journalism to sell copies. But if I’m not altogether mistaken about these figures and what they signify — and contrary opinions are welcome — it’s a force to be reckoned with, and a phenomenon which people would be well served to pay more attention to.

(*) pun intended.

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Algeria dream of reviving the memories of 1982

November 26th, 2009 Comments off

Algiers/Cairo, Nov 26 (DPA) After more than two decades the Algerian national football team will take part in the 2010 World Cup, carrying to South Africa the hopes and aspirations of the Arab World as their lone representative.
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Football Madness Continuing

November 20th, 2009 Comments off

UPDATES: If you believe the blogosphere, and the wilder media, an Egyptian has been arrested for espionage in Algeria; Egypt threatened Sudan that it would send its special forces to provide security for Egyptians in Khartoum after the match, and lots of other wild allegations. Let’s everyvody cool off a little, okay?

[ORIGINAL POST]: I spoke too soon. The game may be over but the diplomatic flaps continue. Ambassadors are being summoned for protests, and Egypt’s to Algiers has been called home for consultation; Sudan has also gotten into the protest act, and Algerian and Egyptian communities in Marseilles have clashed. FIFA is considering action against the Egyptian Football Association over the earlier attack on the Algerian players’ bus in Cairo. Oh, and also this. Kal at The Moor Next Door reviews the international media coverage and finds it wanting, finding more Egyptians to quote than Algerians and generally showing ignorance about the Maghreb. (As a Maghrebi who’s writing from Cairo in this post, he’s well placed to comment.) On the other side, Al-Masry al-Youm offers a survey in English of the Egyptian media coverage of the aftermath. And El Koshary Today, a relatively new Egyptian attempt at The Onion-style parody quotes an imaginary sheikh as attributing the (first) Egyptian victory to prayer. (I don’t think I’d previously linked to El Koshary (it’s named for a popular Egyptian street food) but to those who know Egypt, they’re sometimes right on target. Like any parody, sometimes they fall flat.

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