Interview by: Antonio Chamorro Cristóbal PhD Andean History FLACSO- EcuadorThesis: “Technology diffusion during the Agrarian Modernization in Ecuador, 1962-1994”, FLACSO.Master of Sciences in Organic Agriculture, Wageningen University
This interview with Dalia Ghanem about the current situation in Argelia(1) wants to offer an understanding of the recent social mobilizations observed in the country that had resulted in the step down of Bouteflika, who ruled the country for two decades, opening a new period for the country. (2)
The importance of Algeria for Europe is referred to the energy dependence from Algerian gas resources, being the second supplier only after Russia(3), moreover Spain has made important investments in Algeria(4), which in 2009 was the second destination for spanish investment in African countries, just after Morocco(5); these investments were led by Repsol and Cepsa. Besides, in 2017, Spain was the third international investor in Algeria with a 17.9% share, after China and Singapore, and therefore the first European investor in the country. The main investment sectors for foreign economic investment are hydrocarbons, food processing, real estate, chemicals and retailing.
The regional proximity with the North African region, together with the commercial and cultural links that we shared, points to the need to understand what is going on there. So we should pay attention to the evolution of this peaceful social movement that shows the maturity of the Algerian society.
Furthermore, this political event shows us the influence that digital technologies had to be able to connect and express directly, without the need to be questioned by external international actors. The next lines are the interview with Dr. Dalia Ghanem.
Who was participating in the demonstrations ?
The mobilizations were characterized by a great heterogeneity both regarding age and the regional procedence of the people, there were people from different regions and generations, who came together to ask for a new way to manage Algerian society, and questioned the regime that has been ruling for the last two decades.
What was the role of digital media and new technologies ?
The use of social media and the image empowered the demostrators who, although they have been historically marginalized, know what they want and they have the tools to express it through digital social media.
The fact that 55% of the population is young meant that this sector was more visible during the demostrations, but it is important to remark that they were characterized by a great heterogeneity.
The fact that civil society still has fresh memories of the black decade- the violent civil war-, had an influence on the peaceful nature of the movement.
In addition, the youth made a strategic move to avoid a possible violent response from the goverment, so the demonstrators organized a security belt inside the demonstrations to avoid confrontation with the police, and reduce the possibility of being provoked by security forces.
On the other hand, the fact that Algerian youth is a 2.0 Generation connected through Facebook, which already has 19 millions users in the country, explains how it has been used as a vector of communication, while it increased the visibility of the demands, acting as a protection against a possible violent response from security forces.
The main issue that indicates all of this is that society has been able to organize as a sort of collective intelligence without a strong vertical organization.(6)
In this sense it is important to point out that Internet has avoided the possibility of repeating a similar situation to the one produced during the civil war from the 1990s. This shows that nowadays we are living in a new time, where the live streaming from demonstrators has reduced the possibility for a violent response from the state.
However there is always the risk of facing fake news, such as the speech of Macron saying that Algerian natural gas was given for free to France, something that produced a quick reaction by the demonstrators that showed that this was not true.
What about the regional inequalities in the country, specially in the south region where gas is extracted?
The south region of the country, where gas is extracted, is poorer and there is not a distribution of the revenues in the sense of social services(7), there are few infrastructures and the unemployment is high. Although this region is the heart of the economy they do not have access to the revenues, besides the connection is terrible because it is a desert.
So what is the next step, what do you think will happen?
There is a feeling in the streets that there has been too much corruption. In the wise words of people from the streets “they stole too much and for far too long”, over 20 years.
So people want the departure of the former regime, an overthrow of the regime, and they do not want the elections of 4th of July to regenerate, because they consider that it is the same people trying to keep the regime in power, and only making superficial changes. Moreover, there is a certain risk that the constitution of the assembly segment and fracture civil society.
Besides, now we are getting into a frozen political moment. Although militars have given some concessions, more people have been arrested, like the brother of Bouteflika, and the former special advisor of Bouteflika(8), and there will be trials for corruption. Also people are willing for a fair transition to a II Republic, through a fair trial and a fair justice, that overhold or change the institutions from 1972. Therefore, people now feel that they are citizens with responsibilities, and they are tired of the deep state.
On the other hand there is a generational crisis that has followed the economic and institutional crisis, so the youth are blaming their elders for not taking any responsibilities and letting it go.
What about environmental issues, was something related to this in the demonstrators claims?
The demostrations have shown as well an increase of social awareness about issues such as the cleaning of the streets, so if the state is not able to clean the streets, people just organize themselves to spontaneously do it.
In this sense there has been an environmental awakening about the dirty public spaces, and they have started to take action in order to change the public common space. This shows a disconnection between the public spaces and the state, that has resulted in a reappropiation of public spaces and the environment, in the sense of citizenship empowerment. This shows that the response to the polical regime established during 20 years after the black decade has made citizens act collectively to improve their society.
Which should be the role of the EU?
The role of the EU must be to watch this process closely, but avoid taking actions that could alienate the internal situation during the coming months. In this moment the situation is quite uncertain, and anything could happen, so we must watch closely what it is going on during the following months.
What is certain is that we are involved in a revolutionary process, the revolution of minds, where fear must be faced in a peaceful way, which promotes and brings about change.
6- Something has been as well observed in other movements as the 15th May in Madrid in 2011. This shows that we are facing a new historical moment at global scale.
7- There is a conference of an Algerian blogger who referes to Arab spring in Algeria sinde the time 3:16:30- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYpOBI.mICOo&feature=youtu.be