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!