In the past few decades, both media and academic scholarship have marginalized the Western Saharan conflict, rendering it largely insignificant within regional and global political imaginations. Beginning as a post-colonial dispute between regional powers in the 1970s, the conflict developed and was exacerbated as North Africa became an entangled site of Cold War rivalries. Following the 1975 Madrid Accords, in which Spain conceded on its promises to the Sahrawi people on honoring their right to self-determination through a referendum, Spain instead split the territory between Mauritania and Morocco. By then, the Polisario Front had grown as an armed struggle group, fighting for an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, first against Spanish colonization, then against Mauritanian and Moroccan military forces. By 1979, Mauritanian forces withdrew from the territory, leaving the conflict between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan military, which lasts up until today. After decades of violence, tens of thousands of deaths and even more refugees, the territorial dispute over the Western Sahara remains unresolved. It also remains underreported, despite the serious escalation in violence since 2010, with the Polisario Front more intent than ever to establish an independent state. Given political developments both in the Maghreb and the Sahel, the conflict’s implications for the entire region are significant.

Despite the scant attention that the Western Sahara has received, several authors have recently argued that the Sahrawi’s struggle for self-determination is part and parcel of the ongoing uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Noam Chomsky went as far as to argue that the “Arab Spring” actually began in the Western Sahara, pointing to the Moroccan army’s violent repression of the October 2010 protests in Gdeim Izik, which lasted until November 2010, a month before Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia. While the Western Sahara protests may have influenced the Tunisian uprisings in some way, as many authors and thinkers have shown, the exact causes of the uprising remain elusive. Chomsky’s argument draws much-needed attention to the conflict; however, situating the Gdeim Izik protests as the beginning of the “Arab Spring” disrupts a historical narrative that is centered on a decades-long struggle for self-determination in the Western Sahara.

Click here to continue reading the introduction to the roundtable. The list of roundtable contributions is below:

In the last few months, Algeria has witnessed a frenetic activity of economic and trade delegations visiting the country. In November 2012 alone, Algiers received tens of high profile delegations succeeding each other from European countries such as Spain, Italy, France, the UK, Romania, Finland, and Turkey to Arab countries, including Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. With its substantial foreign reserves amounting to more than two hundred billion dollars, it seems that Algeria has become a hot destination for foreign investment at a time when Europe is undergoing a deep economic crisis. Even for the highly-mediatized visit of French President Hollande (that some preferred to interpret through the distorting prism of the traumatizing history of colonialism), economic interests were at the top of the agenda.

Fifty years after its independence, is Algeria in a position to impose itself economically? Is there really a genuine will for the development of a true and balanced economic cooperation, advantageous for both Algeria and Europe? Is Algeria in the path of a full-blown economic development that will benefit the Algerian people, or is it merely an Eldorado for the crisis-ridden foreign economies? To answer these questions, a historical detour is necessary to give us more insights and to help us understand where Algeria stands in the global economic order.

In the first two decades following its independence in 1962, Algeria launched an ambitious development project. The aim was to disconnect itself from an unjust political and economic global order that kept it within the dominated periphery and relegated the country to a status of a proletariat nation; on the one hand as a market for the dominant Western economies, and on the other, as a reservoir of cheap labor and natural resources.

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Only a few dissenting voices within the Left and the Green parties have gone against the decision of the Head of State, condemning the launching of a military engagement of France in Mali, which François Hollande had not brought before the Government or Parliament for discussion. In an op-ed published on 13 January, the former Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, also expressed his reservations about the “apparent haste” of the operation and his concerns about the re-use of the “war against terror” rhetoric.

Beyond the criticism of the decision-making process that led to the French military engagement and the questionable legitimacy of an intervention conducted in the name of the “war against terror,” there are also contradictions between Hollande’s alleged desire to break from the neo-colonial politics, as claimed during his election campaign, and the reality of his recent actions.

More specifically, François Hollande had declared: that he did not want to behave as “Africa’s policeman,” that he sought to abandon troubled relations related to “Françafrique," and that he would privilege multilateral action under the aegis of the United Nations, letting African countries take responsibility for their own security.  For the Head of State to commit an isolated France to an intervention in Mali directly contradicts his previous commitments, and inevitably forces him to adopt an interventionist posture.”

A Dangerous Show of Force from a Former Colonial Power

The above is an excerpt from the final installment of Jadaliyya's 3-part series, featuring various angles on the situation in Mali:

Thus far, Algerian press coverage and reactions are divided on France’s military intervention in northern Mali, Operation SERVAL, as well as the additional thrusts in the south by Mali’s jihadist coalition. Skepticism that has been prevalent in Algerian media coverage of calls for the internationalization of the Malian crisis remains a strong thread in opinion and editorial writing nonetheless. While significant strands of elite opinion—especially at the political level—appear to have somewhat rallied to support military intervention in northern Mali. At the same time, the Algerian government’s longstanding position in favor of “dialogue” and a “political solution” to the crisis remains evident in press reports, government statements, and skepticism over the prospects that the intervention will successfully resolve Mali’s troubles persists. Comments from Algerian intellectuals depicting the campaign as a “proxy war” of the United States or as destined for failure, and highlights given to the opinions of certain French voices suggest some level of discomfort over France’s intentions and the Algerian government’s role in the crisis; this is to be expected to some extent given the background of distrust between Paris and Algiers over Mali, as well as the nature of Franco-Algerian relations in general. Outside of the major dailies, some confusion does appear to exist over Algiers’ position in the ongoing struggle. This post only reviews French-language media and looks at perspectives through the beginning of the week of 13 January.

Read more for a summary of the discussions going on in Algerian press, featuring excerpts from Tut Sur Algerie, El Watan, Le Temps, Le Soir d’Algerie, and Algerie-Focus.

Leila Sebbar: I Do Not Speak My Father’s Language (an excerpt)

I did not know that these neighborhoods were cursed.

Peripheral neighborhoods, always. Beyond the colonial village, beyond the city, Blida the Muslim town, Alger, Salembier-Gardens. It was there that the family’s voyage had ended, on the edge of the Wild Woman’s Ravine, the last outpost of schoolteachers loyal to the Republic, whom the revolution had not had time to liquidate as traitors and agents of the French enemy, and whom the Secret Army Organization, clandestine French terrorist commandos, had not succeeded in getting at either. My father’s name was on a blacklist: it was necessary to cut the future elite of the young country off at the root, Moloud Feraoun, his fellow teacher, his friend, the writer, had been assassinated with others (on March 15th 1962), at the back of the classroom, against a wall, Feraoun the peaceful, he kept a journal like a scholarship boy at boarding school, his calm voice, the Kabyle accent beneath the black mustache, I had asked the writer questions, as an adolescent, I had spoken with my father’s friend. I’ve forgotten his answers, he had answered, certainly, answers modest as his thoughtful gestures. He is dead. My father would be next. How had he learned it? I can no longer ask him, telephone him from Paris to Nice several times a day to learn, a few decades later, what he had not said, because he didn’t speak of things which might cause us pain, he thought that one had to forget, not recall the troubles and grief, again and again….Of those years, I knew nothing. My father, obstinately, had said nothing about them. And as for me, no less obstinately, I call him, I telephone. His tender and ironic voice, he knows that I’m going to ask him questions again, I’m no longer a child and I ask questions like a child. He will say “So then, daughter, how are things? The children…” I will interrupt him, rudely, I only realize now, I understood that Oriental protocol too late, I ought to have respected it , my father never made the slightest remark, he didn’t like to be called to order. I don’t permit my father to go down the familial chain. “I’d like to know… — What is it that you’d like to know this time? … Why do you want to know all this? … One has to forget…. – Forget, why? You say one has to forget and you don’t want to say what… No, my child , no… let it be, forget all that…. It’s not worth it , believe me, it’s not worth it… — But papa, the things you know, you might be the only one…And if you don’t tell anything…— The only one… You’re joking, my daughter, I’m not the only one who knows, and now the whole world knows, what good does it do to repeat…—To repeat what… what? Tell me… You think that the whole world knows… Books say nothing and neither do you…— Listen, my girl, if I thought that it was important, I would answer you…So, what is it you want to know? – Everything” My father laughs. “Everything, like that, on the telephone… come to Nice, come to see us, spend a little time with us, at home. We’ll talk. It takes time, you understand. You’ll stay three days, maybe five, that’s not enough… — But every time you tell me later, later…—And later…I know what you’re thinking, later it will be too late… I know, daughter, I know… We’ll see. Go on now, kiss the little ones for me. Good-bye, my child.”

I will not be able to tell my father what I learned recently, what he perhaps knew. Salembier-Gardens. Working-class and wild. This neighborhood which first frightened the poor Whites of the colony, then the dignitaries of Algerian Algeria, revolutionaries are born in its modest houses, from the school’s passageways one could hardly see the too-narrow little streets, dark in the sunlight, like a shantytown. But I don’t remember it as a shantytown, really, the way one sees them depicted, on screens which offer ethnographic tours of Nanterre and the suburbs, not far from the capital of France, Paris. Houses made of boards, perhaps, of earth that is too dry or too wet, , not the tar reserved for the new neighborhoods, for repair work on quickly damaged roads, the odor of tar, sweet as corkscrews of licorice, acrid and smoking, it gushed out as we followed the steamroller’s progress, the road-workers’ hands, fast, skilled, they could have been badly burned, they had to go quickly like the workers who, in Paris, re-lay the pavement torn up by jackhammers, their arms jump, rhythmic, and their muscles and their cheeks, the workers are the same, they haven’t aged, some are slightly blacker, it’s not the tar, in the white smoke spat out by the rear end of the truck with the hot black paste. Houses made of boards, not all, brown and lighter, of different heights, nailed, laundry drying on the protruding nails. You can’t see the women in their closed courtyards, you had to go out on the balcony, but that school, I think, had been built without a balcony, not like the smaller one in the village near Tlemcen, Hennaya, there was nothing to see around it. Once a year, the fantasia in the stadium, to be closer to the horsemen and the rifles, you had to look out of the screened classroom window, window-screens or bars? Level with the red earth from which the lined-up horses started, all the way to the other end of the stadium, then the men, their white burnooses puffed out, fired their guns all at once, standing up in the stirrups. When they returned at a gallop toward us girls, half hidden under the schoolroom tables, choked by the dust, the armed men, shouting in the disorder of the race, we knew that they’d stop short, upright, half a yard from the school window, with the dexterity and precision of great horsemen, not one of them ever failed, yet even so, all three of us would huddle together under the wooden platform, holding our breath, we waited for the stopped horses pawing the ground, before the stirrup-kick that marked a new departure, the same choreography, simple, repetitive, every hour of the afternoon, before the storm that dispersed men and beasts, we would stay at the window overlooking the stadium, protected by the window-screens or by metal bars, my father wouldn’t have given us permission to be in the classroom, on the edge of the wing alongside the stadium if we had been able to jump from the windowsill to the red earth, among the legs of the horses, against the tawny boots of the horsemen occupied with reloading their old rifles…

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"The question of French repentance for the crimes committed in Algeria also reveals a deeper fear that transcends the question of colonialism. Indeed, these historical claims are often linked to anxieties around sex, gender, and race. For these individuals, defending France’s strength and honor by insulting an Algerian minister is part of a broader struggle to save a normative racial and heterosexual political order. For example, a media figure like Eric Zemmour, whose racist statements have provoked many a debate, has been particularly worried about the extinction of manhood. For him, French society is facing a dangerous process of feminization. This intersection between gender anxiety and racism is present not only in the writings of Zemmour, but also in the non-repentance for the aforementioned French crimes committed in Algeria.”

—Read more on Neither Regret Nor Remorse: Colonial Nostalgia Among French Far Right

جميلة بوحيرد | Djamila Bouhired

أعرف أنكم سوف تحكمون علي بالإعدام لكن لا تنسوا إنكم بقتلي تغتالون تقاليد الحرية في بلدكم ولكنكم لن تمنعوا الجزائر من أن تصبح حرة مستقلة

I know you will sentence me to death but do not forget that by killing me you will not only assassinate freedom in your country but you will not prevent Algeria from becoming free and independent.

جميلة بوحيرد | Djamila Bouhired

أعرف أنكم سوف تحكمون علي بالإعدام لكن لا تنسوا إنكم بقتلي تغتالون تقاليد الحرية في بلدكم ولكنكم لن تمنعوا الجزائر من أن تصبح حرة مستقلة


I know you will sentence me to death but do not forget that by killing me you will not only assassinate freedom in your country but you will not prevent Algeria from becoming free and independent.