Is Algeria Turning Green or Staying Red
Like a lot of the world, Algeria isn’t on America’s mental map: not our stone, not our shoe. But it’s getting attention in other, un-American places like the rest of the planet due to the restive natives who are well pissed off at nearly 60 years of communist mismanagement.
The largest (peaceful to date) street protests in recent decades have erupted lately in the capital Algiers as well as in Paris which has a large Algerian population.
A moment in history class here: After 130 years of French colonialism Algeria attained its independence in 1962 after a colossally brutal decade long war. Since then the North African country has had the old-school socialist rule of the National Liberation Front (FLN in French) inflicted upon its 42M citizens with predictably socialist results: slow moving oppression and a hopeless economy despite winning the hydrocarbon lottery.
The guy at the top of FLN for the last 20 years is an old guardsman in every sense: Abdel Aziz Boutaflika is 82 and a bad 82 at that. Following a stroke in 2013 he is now a crippled husk, his wooden face unmoving as he “waves” a bit from his flunky-pushed wheelchair. Behind him, as it were, pushing him and his country firmly into the present is a small circle of intelligence officers including his terrifying, murderous brother Said, as well as a few hundred very wealthy families who pretty much own Algeria. The huge army is keeping a lid on things for now. Of course Boutaflika has registered to “run” in the next election on April 18th – his fifth term – adding a “Weekend at Bernie’s” theme to the farce.
All this is to the deep satisfaction of the French, long the lever pullers in Africa. When they love you the French love you long time. Unlike other colonialists the French tend(ed) to meddle in their colonies for decades after departure, thumbing up or down whichever bloody stooge or psychopathic dictator best serves their trade and diplomatic interests. France’s diplomatic interests have, for hundreds of years, been focused on one super-agenda: screwing the Brits and Yanks.
Twenty five years ago an Islamist party (the “F.I.S.”) won an almost free election with the intention of making it Algeria’s last election and in response the governing FLN stepped in and cancelled the result. This lead to the death of 200,000 people in a civil war as gruesome as the earlier war of independence.
Algeria has long been a gangster state so now these angry youngsters have taken to the streets in large numbers. Most of the population is very poor, half are under 30 and 29% are unemployed.
Since no semblance of democratic freedoms or understanding of democracy has been permitted, the default position of what might succeed Algerian socialism could be Islamism. This would certainly be a more miserable, ultimately unpopular and disastrous option.
Let’s explore. There is one point the anti-Sharia idiots in the West, particularly the US, just don’t get: they don’t understand that Islamic parties, even in the Islamosphere, aren’t popular. The few times they’ve been voted in (Egypt, voted for in Algeria) have been when no alternative was imaginable or possible. The Islamosphere knows, especially now, that religious parties will turn your country into Talilbanland or ISIS-stan.
Of course, the “save us from Sharia” MAGA hat wearing yokels also don’t understand that immigrants from the Islamosphere here are usually fleeing all that religious nonsense in their home countries. This atop the mathematic fact that even if they wanted to, (which they most assuredly don’t) the 1.1% of Muslims in the US population have no shot at any real electoral power.
Back to Algeria: perhaps the current protests are Algeria’s belated Arab Spring? Looking back with some remove at the Arab Spring – the main culprit behind its many disasters was religion. Sectarianism (read “religion”) dictated whether a revolution would be a moderate, positive change like say, Tunisia and (arguably) Egypt, or a disaster like Yemen, Iraq or Syria. Even within the cushy Gulf area the worst violence was in Sunni-Shi’ist sectarian split Bahrain.
The world over the question of what deity you grovel to and how you do so is the prime variable in human disharmony. There is cultural friction in Algeria between the indigenous Berber minority, a separate bunch from the more Arab regular Algerians, geographically and linguistically distinct, but fortunately they all hue to the same iteration of the same ancient fairy tale: Sunni Islam.
Societies are easier to break than fix and the (almost unprecedentedly) large crowds in the streets now don’t seem to have much idea about what should come next. Do they want full metal sharia, a tajine flavored dystopia with women’s lot hurled back 1300 years, public executions and economic ruin?
Do they want more socialism? The country’s full name, the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria says it all, except one thing about Algeria’s socialism, like socialism in most places, is it provides a better life for women than theocracy. Muzzling and defanging religion makes life better for women in all circumstance and places.
Or do those social media fueled youngsters in the streets hanker for a secular democracy? Their English speaking spokespeople on (non-American) networks say they do, but whether they get it or not isn’t really their choice.
David Anderson is an Australian-American attorney in New York City. His thesis at Georgetown University was “Fundamentalism in Algeria and Iran.” He writes for several publications including Forbes, Counterpunch and Democracy Chronicles.
Photo: Damouns (Damien Boilley) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]