When the Algerian Interior Minister, in a recent televised communique to the nation threatened the protesters who reject the disputed presidential elections, as, inter alia, “homosexuals” and “abnormal people,” the public were indeed outraged for what they perceived as an unforgivable insult to their dignity. But that reaction, from a different perspective, highlighted how a large swath of the population think in a negative way of homosexuals and other groups with unconventional sexual orientation. Some still uphold that homosexuals deserve no less than capital punishment as the Islamic jurisprudence clearly states. Some schools within the four Sunni schools of Islamic Jurisprudence even specify that homosexuals should be thrown from a high building. A practice carried out faithfully by ISIS within the region it had once controlled in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
The Minister of Interior, Salah Eddine Dahmoune, also made reference in his utterance to what he termed “abnormal people” which, according to the local and regional political discourse, usually refers to secular and “Westernized minds” who are regarded by the mainstream as heretics and outcasts for not endorsing Sharia Law. That statement and the peculiar language it made use of, is not an improvised angry reaction of a regime beginning to lose patience and thus resorting to casting aspersions on dissidents. Instead, it is seemingly a deliberate and conscious move as to convey a message of assurance ‘to whom it may concern’ about the side the regime is actually taking. And with other references through the statement to some influential Islamic ulema, like the Salafist scholar Abdelhamid Ben Badis, instead of Rousseau or Sartre as one might expect from a marked francophone bureaucracy, the Interior Minister steered the regime clear of the camp of La Laïcité (secularism) that once the army was one of its main pillars in the old days following the independence and specifically through the decade-long civil war of the 1990s. That reactionary attitude of the Algerian military regime came last in a series of attacks against plurality and religious freedom, such as the shutdown of an alarming number of churches, and the arrest of “41 people in recent days for waving the flag of the Amazigh community at demonstrations across the country or simply for having it in their possession,” according to a report by Amnesty International.
However, the minister’s statement, if anything, reflects a deep understanding of Algerian society and its internal dynamics—that has undergone fundamental changes throughout the decades since the independence in 1962–where Islamist ideology and medieval values—which replaced Capital of Marx and the Arab nationalism of the 20th century—now form the main source from where the young population seeks its political meaning, its perception of reality and prospect of the future.
One of the main causes of the repetitive failures of popular uprisings across the MENA (Middle east North Africa) region lies not in the regimes’ ability to manipulate, plot, reorganize their cards and reinstate in place their cronies to preserve power—but essentially in the palpable lack of a mature political vision, a real philosophy of change that has always accompanied the profound and popular movements in modern history. There is an alarming absence of charismatic figures and cultivated leaders who can muster hundreds of thousands and expound in the clearest terms how they envision a future society, its political system, the main socio-political issues revolving around education, women’s status and freedom of conscience and expression, et cetera. And if we imagined ourselves in an Orwellian Farm we would say a rebellion in the absence of boars and porkers. Simply put, there is almost nothing to offer as the society has become intellectually hollowed.
Unlike the iconic figures of the 1960-70s where universities and trade unions were proliferating eloquent orators and well-read speakers along the left-right spectrum, both men and women—today fundamentalism and social conservatism has dashed the individual ability to be creative and innovative in communicating deep ideas and elaborated political messages, and making good use of the visual art through the exhibition of political artworks, thought-provoking posters, and deep-meaning slogans. The main slogans of the uprisings throughout the Arab world remain extremely basic.
42 weeks into the Algerian hirak, or the movement in Arabic, and still hasn’t yet been able to produce such outstanding figures with whom it can exhibit itself to the outside world and have a face-to-face debate with the ruling military junta, thus creating a vacuum to be only capitalized on by the old guard.
Algerians have been taking to the streets qualifying Friday (like their counterparts across the region) as the preferable day for protesting specifically for its religious significance, and to stress practically that the movement is in no way in favour of the jurisprudential concept of separating the Mosque and the State if not reinforcing an already existing formal relationship between the two—as the crowds pour directly from Friday sermons on to the political street. If that was the goal, the regime is all but ready to sacrifice all that remain in his old secular reservoir.