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Who would have thought the Algerian blogosphere is weak?
El Mouhtarem, Algeria’s most famous political blogger (pen name) has created a storm by claiming that Echorouk owes 103 billion centimes (around $15 million) to the national printing companies. ElWatan, a francophone newspaper, picked up on the story and claimed that they verified it by a second anonymous source. The day after, Echorouk reacted furiously. They published a multi page rebuttal with scans of letters from the printing companies. The state owned printing companies themselves denied the rumours in official letters. In another twist, Echorouk is filing a lawsuit against ElWatan in a fight that might bring down one of the two newspapers (most likely ElWatan) for a few months. The newspaper’s response is hilarious and is full of appeals to popularity and nationalism. They keep looking down on ElWatan’s use of French by repeatedly using the adjective “francophone” in a derogatory manner. I wonder what they’d think of this blog.
Recall that Echorouk shot to national success by sensualising the recent Algeria-Egypt football rivalry. Its editorial line has been very populist since three years ago. It claims to be printing over 1 million copies a day (1.5 million during the matches days), a phenomenal figure by national, regional and Arab standards. The production price of a copy is higher than its selling price, so the newspaper supposedly relies on advertising to turn a profit. Well, it appears that the newspaper might have been amassing debts all the way through the football saga.
El Mouhtarem draws a lot of legitimacy from the claim that he is in the journalism profession working for a state newspaper. By night he diffuses what he hears throughout the day on his collective blog. His posts include all kinds of mysterious insights into Algerian politics and press. His blog has been gaining popularity and might sadly be one of the first victims of a proposed internet filtering system.
Beyond the claim of business mismanagement, there is an implicit questioning of Echorouk’s editorial line. Echorouk has been largely aligned with the government. However, its act of publishing Djamila Bouhired’s letter is speculated to have turned some enemies within the state. The state uses the newspapers’ debts to the state owned printing companies as a potential stick, so a claim that Echorouk owes that much money makes it under a particularly large stick that may come down onto it real soon, forcing it to tread a more pro government stance. A few years ago the newspaper Le Matin was harassed and forced to close using debts in this way.
The end of this storm will be fun to watch. It is quite humorous how such a large newspaper comes down on the defensive by the mighty stroke of an individual blogger!
The minaret ban in Switzerland continues to draw much ink and cynic reactions in the Arab world. The ban provided another opportunity for authorities to regain the tempo domestically on the issue of democracy and human rights. Echorouk, Algeria’s populist most popular Arab newspaper carried two scathing opinion pieces. The reactions lambasted the West for its “hypocrisy” towards human rights and its perceived high horse attitude towards the Arab world. They cite multiple issues and come to the conflusion that the West is not different from the Arab world after all – only more intelligent, in its anti human rights campaigns. Pieces like this suggest that the western human rights demands are just post colonial meddling in internal affairs.
The first piece is written by Fayssal Alqassem, one of the most popular journalists in the Arab world. His syndicated column is printed in almost every Arab country. He is one of the BBC trained journalists who helped shape Aljazeera’s image with taboo destroying programmes. In his piece, titled “The Myth of Indiviual Liberty in the West” he is as usual, abrasive and confrontational. He amusingly subtitles his column “Careful, a camera is watching you”. He contrasts Arab countries’ anti-Human Rights record, describing it as rather dumb and too obvious - with the West’s, which is according to him cleverer, by using technology such as DNA databases and cameras in public places. The latest minaret ban is just the west accidently getting into the dumb anti human rights ways. Some selected quotes (paraphrasing):
I don’t want to suggest that the Arab countries’ have a crisp human rights record – far from it. But the Arab intelligence and security institutes are still behind in terms of technology and logistics of spying, monitoring and citizen surveillance , at least the Arab can try and evade his country’s incompetence. But in the “west”, who is often riding the moral high horse on human rights, citizens are under surveillance 24 hours a day. The big brother that George Orwell warned us from is watching everywhere. Rarely can you walk through a street in Europe without noticing dozens of cameras watching even the ants. In London alone there are more than 4 million cameras…
And then some attacks on the United States:
Uncle Sam does not only want to monitor his citizens alone, he wants to monitor the whole world. We need not cite the spying network and its surveillance operations around the world [...] I also want to congratulate Europe on their new European law that makes it possible to allow the CIA to get access to , lawfully, the banking details of its citizens.
I don’t know what law he is referring to, that is scary if true. Fayssal’s punch line is rich:
Oh George Orwell, if you still lived you’d wish the old soviet style surveillance tactics are still in force instead!
The second piece is written by Fawzi Oussedek, a local Algerian journalist. He titled it “Human rights in Switzerland, melting like chocolate in Minarets [sic]“. He contrasts the perceived reaction of the West, governments, institutes and individuals alike towards the Minaret ban with their reactions to any similar measure in the Arab and Muslim Worlds. There are a lot more Muslims in the West than say, Christians in Muslim countries so the difference in reactions seems even more absurd to him. On Western reactions he says:
Since the Minaret ban I have been waiting the views of human rights organisations [...] that made a habit of criticising some places for their human rights record [...] since the ban I have been listening to commentators in the west trying to justify the unjustifiable [...] Governmental reactions amounted to only expressing mere dismay, a tactic that they used to diplomatically evade their moral stance on human rights.
Then he contrasts this reaction to reactions towards the Muslim world:
I wonder, what if such a vote was made in a Muslim country to ban some other religious symbol, what would be the reaction? simply, we will hear many descriptions about the whole muslim world, from backwardness to being hateful, the reaction can amount to using economic pressure sometimes, and to scare the countries in question by threatening to include them in the “black list”!! [...] but in Switzerland some considered democratic referendums as saintly, it’s just sometimes possible to use them unwisely – evading the moral stance towards the ban.
The author then suggests that the muslim community try and fight this ban all the way in Swiss and European courts.
The ban and other similar measures around Europe, such as the previous veil ban in France , France and Netherlands’ flirtations with banning certain types of clothing and Britain’s “English Defence League“ will provide more fuel for criticism, and will sadly have ramifications on democratic reform in the whole Arab world.