Algeria // 54-project

I'm embarking on a 54-week project wherein I study one Africa country each week. No rules or limits on what I study or seek to learn, just trying my best to learn more about each country. I feel that in African studies the focus is usually placed on certain countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc) or certain events (colonialism, the Rwandan genocide, apartheid, etc), so that people interested in Africa might know a lot about a specific region or time, but not have thorough knowledge of the continent. I am hoping to remedy this situation, that I have at least found in myself, by means of this project. So to begin, here's week 1....

Algeria: books, movies, and music

Algeria is one of the countries for me that fits the category of knowing quite a bit about, but only in a certain context. And of course, that is in regards to French colonialism. I rewatched the Battle of Algiers and also watched Al Jazeera's documentary Algeria: Test of Power. 

Here are some of the "highlights" of Algeria since independence:

  • Independence gained in 1962, after 8 years of civil war and 132 years of French colonial rule
  • There were 9 million inhabitants at the time of independence, with 500,000 refugees returning from Morocco and Tunisia. Around 1,000,000 people died during the war
  • Charles de Gaulle, during negotiations, wanted to ensure safety of Europe and access to oil and gas (Evian Accords)
  • The FLN, which led the fight against France, was deeply divided at the time of independence
  • Announced school was free for everyone but didn’t have means to back it
  • Ben Bella, elected first as Prime Minister, then President in 1953, wanted to establish a state on the model of Yugoslavia at the time
  • NO land left owned by colonial settlers
  • Algeria had only two architects, not even a hundred doctors, no entrepreneurs of any regard, and only 500 university students in Paris and Algiers
  • Arabic was made the lingua franca and the language of education
  • Sonatrach was established, 1963, as a state agency to control the oil energy, but Franceexerted overall control (Sonatrach is nowadays the largest company in Africa)
  • Houari Boumédiène led a coup against Bella in June 1965
  • Boumédiène forced an industrial revolution
  • By 1979 almost every single village was on the electricity grid, unemployment was low, middle class was rising
  • Cultural revolution took place, French became the language of instruction in schools
  • When Boumédiène died, he left nothing in place for appointing a successor, which led to chaos and eventually to the military appointing one of their own, Chadli Bendjedid 
  • Began dismantling the industrial machine, slicing up country’s big industries, corruption became widespread
  • Algerians coined new term, ‘hagrra’, to describe scorn felt at oppression of rich and powerful
  • Family Code was adopted in June 1984, based on religious principles and Shari’a law, limiting women's rights 
  • 1985 the oil market collapses, 1987 the economy hits rockbottom, the economic crisis has beomce a social crisis
  • 20 years before the Arab Spring, Algeria was rocked by popular protests
  • New constitution adopted by referendum February 1989
  • Exiled FLN members returned and set up parties, the FIS sought to create an Islamic state, Islamist blackmail began to be used in Algeria, like Gaddafi said, "It's me or al-Qaeda"
  • In March the FIS was banned, state of emergency was in place, interment camps were set up in the south of the country
  • Boudiaf assassinated during a political rally and country descends into violence once more
  • Bomb at Algiers airport killed a dozen more, injured 100 or so more — work of the GIA, armed Islamic groups (breakaway of FIS); begin to attack "agents of the West"
  • In 1994, Army decided to arm the civilians so that they could protect themselves against Islamists, around 250,000 of them and called the "Patriots"
  • Abdelaziz Bouteflika — former Foreign Minister under Bella and Boumediene, returning from exile (supporter by army, trade unions, and women); quickly perceived as representing the system (all other candidates stepped down, believing that election was rigged)
  • Algeria did not have a revolution during the Arab Spring, some Algerians say because they were tired at this point of revolutions and tired of violence 
  • In 2012 women won 1/3 of the seats in Parliament
  • Bouteflika has been President of Algeria since 1999; removed term limits in 2008; he is not seen much anymore during to sickness

In an effort to expand the focus of my week on Algeria, I researched Albert Camus and read The Stranger, the Nobel Prize winner's famous novel on absurdism and detachment. Camus's views contributed to the rise of the philosophy of absurdism, the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. In this context it means not logically impossible, but, rather, "humanly" impossible. Camus is highly contested in Algeria these days and his work isn't touched upon in the school system. He was quite outspoken during the war about having peace and coming to a resolution, which led to hatred from both sides for him. 

I loved reading Camus, since his work was new to me, but I was hoping to find an author or poet to read not from a pied-noir family, or a younger person born since independence. If anyone has recommendations, please let me know! (I was hoping to read Malek Haddad, but have been unable to find translations into maybe in a couple of years when my French level is ready)

I did follow an Algerian photographer for Reuters on Twitter and Instagram: Zohra Bensemra  @bzohra @zohrabensemra

Besides that, I watched some ariel drone videos of Algeria, my favorite being Algiers by Drone:


Skycam Algeria was pretty awesome too! Both videos inspired me to plan a trip to Algeria, so now I have my list ready of everywhere I want to go whenever I make my way there :) 

To finish off this week: the story of Algeria's national anthem. No, their national anthem wasn't written over a glass of wine overlooking the sandy dunes. Nor on a boat watching fireworks fly. Nope, the man who penned the national anthem, was sitting in prison for his nationalist sentiments. (I feel like at this point it isn't necessary to say who put Moufdi Zakaria into prison). While sitting in prison he wrote the national anthem on his cell wall in his OWN BLOOD. To get a glimpse of what it must have been for Algerians during French rule, here are the full lyrics in English translation:

"We swear by the lightning that destroys,
By the virtuous and fragrant blood,
By the shining, fluttering banners,
In the steep and majestic mountains,
That we have risen to revolution in life or death
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

We are soldiers in the name of righteousness have revolted
And for our independence to war have risen.
Had we not spoken up none would have listened
So we have taken the drum of gunpowder as our rhythm
And the sound of machine guns as our melody,
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

O France, the time of reproach has passed
And we have closed like a book;
O France, the day of reckoning is at hand
So prepare to receive from us our answer!
In our revolution is the end of empty talk;
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

From our heroes we shall make an army come to being,
and on our dead we build glory,
Our spirits shall ascend to immortality
And on our shoulders we shall raise the standard.
To the nation’s Liberation Front we have sworn an oath,
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

The cry of the Fatherland sounds from the battlefields.
Listen to it and heed the call!
Let it be written with the blood of martyrs
And be read to future generations.
Oh, Glory, we have held out our hand to you,
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!"