Saturday, December 15, 2012

Being Unemployed Part II: How to Stop Mansplaining to Job Searchers

In general I write here about North Africa, the Arab world, and women’s rights issues. I a recent post, I wrote about fatshaming, an issue of great interest to me. In this post, the second in a possibly 3-part series, I am going to write about being unemployed.

There are certain experiences in life, such as attempting to diet/lose weight, pregnancy, or unemployment, where EVERYONE has advice. Let me repeat: EVERYONE has advice. Everyone seems to have a plan or know someone whose plan was successful. And every person wants to share it. Unsolicited, usually. Almost always. This phenomenon is known as “mansplaining,” explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman.

Being unemployed has been the third worst experience of my life.** I’ve tried at various times to rationalize it as “time to get stuff I’ve always wanted to do done,” or “time to get enough sleep and be rested” before facing the rejection/feelings of being invisibility that accompany the job search. The effectiveness of these rationalizations varies in terms of how much they can assuage my sadness/feelings of inadequacy/worthlessness. The unsolicited advice in general does not provide any solace.

A gracious, patient person might explain away these advice givers simply as compassionate individuals with the best intentions. That explanation is no longer enough for me to keep my rage at bay. I have currently been unemployed or underemployed since February 2012. Everyone, as I mentioned above, has advice.


Before I get to the nut meat, I want to qualify the above by affirming that I do value advice—the kind that is solicited and originates from an informed, reasoned source with actual knowledge and/or experience of the subject at hand.

But in terms of topics like weight loss, pregnancy, or unemployment—these topics that are somehow fair game for everyone to advise—I am much less receptive to the often inane, irrelevant, uninformed counsel of the public. It is insulting, annoying, and frustrating.

And now: 3 questions to ask BEFORE offering unsolicited advice to a job searcher

1. What are your educational/professional credentials?

This question sets the stage by providing the giver-of-unsolicited-advice a background upon which to base his/her otherwise uninformed, probably-too-general-and-not-relevant-anyway advice.

But STOP there. Don’t begin advising yet. Take in the answer you received for question one and then PROCEED TO QUESTION 2 WITHOUT ADVISING.

2. What is your industry/what type of work are you looking for?

This question, in conjunction with the first question, provides the giver-of-unsolicited-advice with a more precise idea of the unwilling advisee’s career ambitions.

But STOP there. Don’t begin advising yet. Continue to mull the responses and then CONTINUE ON TO QUESTION 3 WITHOUT ADVISING.

3. What have you tried?

This question is intended to provide the giver-of-unsolicited-advice with an idea of what websites, networks, methods, processes, etc. one has already tried or is already familiar with. This question and its response are designed to eliminate redundant suggestions about who is hiring (For example: I heard NATO is hiring. Oh really? Because I just got laid off from NATO), what kinds of websites are available (Have you heard of USAJobs? Have you considered the State Department? No, as a person with a Ph.D. in international relations-ey stuff and the recipient of multiple grants from the US Dept. of State, including one with a federal government service requirement, I'VE SOMEHOW NEVER HEARD OF THESE THINGS OR CONSIDERED THEM).

Ah ha!

In conclusion, dear giver-of-unsolicited-advice, now that you are equipped with this information, please heed it. I am confident that you will find that a good portion of your suggestions are redundant, not relevant, and/or superfluous.

However, because you were not self-aware enough to consider the above on your own, it is perhaps wishful thinking to believe that a giver-of-unsolicited-advice would even recognize him/herself as an offender.

** The worst experience of my life was my parents' divorce. The second worst was bed bugs.

TL;DR Take time to ask a few questions before launching immediately into advice-giving to a job searcher.

Being Unemployed Part I: Why Collecting Unemployment Isn't Demeaning

In general I write here about North Africa, the Arab world, and women’s rights issues. I a recent post, I wrote about fatshaming, an issue of great interest to me. In this post, I am going to write about being unemployed.

My experience reflects the state of affairs in Virginia. I’ve read a couple of other experiences, and the outcomes differ depending on the state. Different states require different things and provide different things.

I am among the fortunate who have been able to collect unemployment benefits. In another post, I am going to talk about where exactly unemployment benefits come from, because it’s a remarkable program. But for now, I will spare a few words to explain why I, in the eyes of some, demeaned myself and accepted checks from the government when I could have been working somewhere. I will be clear: I do not consider claiming benefits in any form demeaning.

In the state of Virginia, the maximum weekly benefit is about $378. This benefit is taxed. One may collect weekly checks in that amount for 25 weeks. Under a special emergency program, I was able to collect for an additional 19 weeks. I will discuss these programs, and the origins of unemployment funding, in another post. I will claim the final unemployment benefit check for which I am eligible on 29 December 2012.

So let me return to my current point: why did I demean myself and accept checks from the government when I could have been working somewhere? The answer may be explained by a cost/benefit analysis. My last day of full time work was 1 February 2012. Let’s assume I could have obtained work in retail at the VA minimum wage of $7.25 and begin working by 15 February 2012. Although it is extremely unlikely (see McMillan’s, The American Way of Eating, Part II Selling) let’s assume I was able to get a full time appointment. Full time employment in most cases would have made me eligible for health and other benefits. These benefits, should I have elected to claim them, would have required premiums. My gross pay for 40 hours per week would have been $290. That is pre-tax, doesn’t include any premiums for benefits, and doesn’t account for the cost of transportation to the workplace, and incidental expenses such as meals (purchasing onsite or bringing one) and uniforms/shoes.

$378 is more than $290. Even at an hourly rate of $10/hr, with the expenses I mentioned earlier, I would likely take home less per week as a worker than as a person collecting unemployment. And let’s not forget the most valuable (and paradoxically most threatening) benefit of collecting unemployment: time. Time allows me to look for work in my field, prepare high quality applications, participate in networking events, and attend interviews without needing to juggle a work schedule.

Anyway, I would have thought that this previous paragraph was obvious information. And perhaps I am taking things people say to me way too personally. But in case I am not being too sensitive or over analyzing the stuff people say on the subject of working versus collecting unemployment, I hereby offer this post.


In my next post, I am going to write about the scourge of unsolicited advice-giving to job searchers.

TL;DR Collecting unemployment isn’t demeaning, and it gives me time to try to find work in my field.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reading for pleasure (*snicker*): Sisters by Lynne Cheney

I first learned of Lynne Cheney’s novel Sisters earlier this year from an article at (5 Famous Artists Who Tried To Destroy Their Own Work)

Copies of the text are selling for more than USD 300 on Amazon, so I requested the book from ODU’s interlibrary loan office (my absolute favorite part of ODU, if I am every in a position to endow anyone or thing, it’ll be ILL…or Planned Parenthood…or both). If you search for the book title and author, you will land on a PDF version that you can read online if you are so inclined. I will not link to it here as I am not entirely sure the copy is legal.

Sisters was not the salacious, titillating, Sapphic piece I had hoped for. However, it was an educational read set in Wyoming with a feminist protagonist and a sex-positive message. I am not sure that I’d recommend the book—I found myself skimming large chunks of text. However, Cheney researched the work thoroughly, and her effort shows.

Fatshaming shows up in all sorts of places

I tend to write about issues directly connected to North Africa or the Arab world in this blog. However, since February I have not had the privilege of being paid to read about that region for 45 hours a week. As a result, my exposure has been greatly reduced. In addition to completing my dissertation on the role of illiterate women in political change (which I have written about here), I have been reading in other areas. I have written previously about fatshaming here.

For example, in preparation for my marriage in August, I read several books and blogs to educate myself about the privilege and injustice of the institution. The books include:

Rebecca Mead's One perfect day: the selling of the American wedding (2008)
Bella DePaulo’s Singled Out: how singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored and still live happily ever after (2006)
Tamara Metz’ Untying the knot: marriage, the state, and the case for their divorce (2010)
Stephanie Coontz’ Marriage, a History (2006)

I enjoyed all of the books, and all four provided a basis for my address at the ceremony. I did have a problem with some of DePaulo’s points.

DePaulo analyzed the rhetoric of a CDC press release that measures the correlation between health and marital status. Her goal is to show that being married or ever having been married is erroneously tied to enjoying better health compared to being single. However, she shows that the results of the CDC data conclude that those 'currently married' and those who have always been single are the two groups with the best health indicators. The other groups are cohabiting couples, divorced or separated people and widowed people.

But DePaulo is simply not satisfied that the data back up her hypothesis that marriage does not necessarily make one healthier or lead to a healthier life. No, she must also include a disparaging remark about the rates of obesity. It turns out that those in the "currently married" group have the best health indicators out of the 5 groups measured and also the highest rates of obesity. The group of people who have always been single have the second best indicators for health. DePaulo writes that she would change the title of the press release to "Adults Who Are Currently Married or Have Always Been Single Are the Healthiest". She adds, though, that she is tempted to say "currently married adults are the fattest."

What is she really saying this remark? What I read is, "sure, currently married people are healthier in comparison to other groups, but they're also a bunch of fatties." So what if they are a bunch of fatties? They are healthy fatties, and that is the point. The actual title of the CDC press release was "Married Adults Are Healthiest, New CDC Report Shows." The summary is "A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that married adults are healthier than divorced, widowed, or never-married adults." (page 45)

Considering that never-married adults have the second best health outcomes, the title and summary are certainly misleading, but DePaulo's remarks about obesity are baffling. She reasonably concludes on page 46 that those currently married may have been healthier than others before they were married. There is no proof that marriage causes greater health. So then why does she resort to quasi fat shaming of the marrieds? Why is it remarkable that the marrieds are fatter than the other groups? Marriage most likely didn't cause their fatness just as marriage didn't necessarily cause their better health.

Later in the book (page 154) DePaulo challenges a conclusion that married men consume more fruits and vegetables and less fat and cholesterol than single men. While she is right to challenge the conclusion, which is based on the "women belong in the kitchen" trope, she undermines her point by resorting to obesity=unhealthy=underconsumption of fruits/vegetables trope. She writes, "if married men are getting fed fruits, vegetables, and low-fat and low-cholesterol meals, and single men are not, then why did the CDC study show that married men are fatter?" Easy, because *News FLASH* fatties, like non-fatties, eat fruits and vegetables. A fair point is tainted by sloppy, heavy-handed bias.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


The following presentation demonstrates my skills with Adobe Captivate.

First watch the video below.

After the video, take this quiz to test your skills.

Don't forget to to test your skills!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why education is not a cure all or panacea

On Friday 1 June 2012, I submitted a complete draft of my dissertation to my committee members.  Since then, I got some feedback from my committee chair about removing some items from the 330 page document (or 82,632 words not including footnotes and references).  My next few posts might end up serving a similar purpose to this one--serving as a repository for the rejected prose from my dissertation.

When one sets out to write a book-length project, inspiration comes from everywhere.  That was the case for me, as I read Obama's memoir "Dreams from my father: a story of race and inheritance" while doing fieldwork in Morocco during 2009-2010.
            An alternative view to the near universal assumption that education is a quasi panacea is the viewpoint that formal schooling does not provide adequate education to marginalized or minority populations, including the poor and women.  In other words, formal schooling does not teach marginalized or minority students about the world based on their perspectives or experiences.  In one of his memoirs, Obama profiles educator Asante Moran, a character that may represent a composite of more than one real person.  Obama quotes Moran as saying, “Just think about what a real education for these children would involve.  It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself[/herself], his[/her] world, his[/her] culture, his[/her] community.  That’s the starting point of any educational process.  That’s what makes a child hungry to learn—the promise of being part of something, of mastering his[/her] environment.”[1]  While Obama’s character was referring to inner-city minority youths in 1980s Chicago, his thoughts are true and valid for all people, not just inner-city minority youths.  This point speaks to the importance of involving the targets of education (or the products of education, whether failed or inadequate or successful) into the curriculum and program designing process.  Such inclusion is challenging for Moroccan society, where teaching is a low prestige job, and teachers are largely not respected by the state or society.  There is growing research on the positive results of including different voices in designing curriculum and schooling programs.[2]

            The character in Obama’s memoir, Asante Moran, discusses the educational experience of his pupils through the lens of standpoint theory.  The challenge to formal schooling in Obama’s text cites the disconnection between the experience behind the curriculum that is being taught and the experience of the pupils to whom it is being taught.  Obama quotes Moran further, “From day one, what’s he[/she] learning about?  Someone else’s history.  Someone else’s culture, Not only that, this culture [she/]he’s supposed to learn is the same culture that’s systematically rejected him[/her], denied him[/her] his[/her] humanity.”[3]  This second quote is even more relevant to the women of Morocco, and the relevance increases as the intersectional identities increase.  Rural women, poor women, girls and teens (youth is another intersectional identity), Amazigh (Berber) women, single mothers, mentally or physically handicapped women, homosexual women, children born to Moroccan women and non-Moroccan men (this affects issues of nationality and the privileges associated with it), widows, mothers of daughters, non-Muslim women, and others.

            Indeed, inter-subjectively, the marginalized student is not being taught her history while the enfranchised students gets to benefit from an otherwise more robust educational experience when that experience is shared with students from different backgrounds.  Obama points out through his character Moran that, “The flow of culture [runs] in reverse as well.”[4]  The disenfranchised have “their own forms of validation.”  Their “claims of greater deprivation” afford them “greater authenticity.”  Furthermore, their mere presence in the classroom with privileged students provides those privileged students “with an education”[5] from the points of view of the disenfranchised (the poor, the deprived and other areas outside of affluence and privilege).  Inclusion leads to an improved school experience for everyone.

[1] Barack Obama. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. 1st pbk. ed.  New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. 258.

[2] See for example, International Working Group on Education (IWGE). "Critical Issues in Education for All: Gender Parity, Emergencies," (Paris: UNESCO: International Institute for Educational Planning, 2003).

[3] Obama, Dreams from my father: a story of race and inheritance: 258.

[4] Ibid., 286.

[5] Ibid.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Moroccan women as seen from abroad

I read this article back in 2010 when it was published in Telquel, but I am just now getting to the part of my dissertation where I am able to include it and my thoughts on it.  I thought I'd share those thoughts here, especially in light of the recent article I blogged about yesterday about the Moroccan school girl banned from taking her entrance exam at a prestigious high school in Rabat because she was wearing a hijab.

Anyhow, the Telquel article, in French, is titled "Moroccan women as seen by the Arabs."

The article discusses how across Arab states, the image of the Moroccan woman is anecdotally trademarked, and is associated with being liberated--though interpreting that association is subjective.  While in the West, the quality of being liberated hints at franchise and agency, among Arabs, so-called 'liberated' Moroccan women make ideal prostitutes, resulting in Algerian and Tunisian migrants passing themselves off as Moroccan in order to provide the product their customers are seeking.

Morocco represents the literal and figurative west of the Arab world.  Moroccan women, in the minds of Khaleejis, go out, work, exist, and don't cover themselves from head to toe.  One might mark the historical beginning of women's physical and spatial liberation in 1947.  It was then that Princess Lalla Aicha, paternal aunt of the current king, appeared in 1947 without a veil.

The stereotype of Moroccan women as liberated has led to an ironic reduction of freedom of movement for them. Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca if their resources allow it.  There is also a so-called minor pilgrimage that is not required but is recommended for the devout.  As of 2010 (and likely earlier) an unaccompanied Moroccan woman faces additional obstacles to obtaining the necessary permissions to enter Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.  These new obstacles extend beyond the usual labyrinthine bureaucracy, and are rooted in the stereotype that Moroccan women are too liberated.

In other words, while other Arab countries and cultures regard Moroccan women as being liberated, these same entities are party to restricting their freedom--of movement, of employment, of expression.

What is the origin of this stereotype?  Well, according to the Telquel article, it comes in part form the portrayal of Moroccan women in Middle Eastern film.  I discussed the Moroccan-woman-as-prostitute yesterday in reaction to my rage at seeing illiterate women being essentially blamed for exacerbating prostitution.

The article also brings up an interesting point about language, which is of particular interest to me and to my dissertation.  In the final paragraph, the authors point out that most stereotypes of Moroccans come from non-Arab sources.  

However, "la proximité de la langue aidant, les Marocains regardent plus de chaînes arabophones qu’européennes, et sont donc directement touchés par l’image que leur renvoient leurs frères arabes."
With this thought, the authors are either asserting that Moroccan people watch more Arabic language television channels than they do European ones or that Moroccans watch more Arab channels than European channels.  This latter point means that the Moroccans are not just watching Arabic-speaking channels but also Arab channels which may be in other languages.  Textual ambiguity aside, I would love to know upon what the authors are basing this claim.  I am also interested in what the implications are for literacy in Morocco if Moroccans are watching more Arabic-language programming.

According to the authors, because of the Arabic-language affinity between Moroccans and other Arabs, the negative or stereotypical portrayal of Moroccans is more hurtful when it comes from fellow Arabs than when it comes from European programming.

The authors write:
"Preuve en est que l’épisode de la vidéo koweïtienne a égratigné plus de Marocains que foultitude de sketchs français bourrés de clichés sur le Maroc. C’est bien connu, les coups sont plus douloureux quand ils viennent de la famille."

Thus, the portrayal of Moroccans by Kuwaitis caused more outcry than the portrayal of Moroccans in French shows.  This refers to a Kuwaiti program in which Moroccan women were characterized as scheming witches.  For additional reading, especially if you don't feel like sifting through French, the article I blogged about yesterday discusses this issue, and others, in English.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hijab ban for Moroccan school girl

I was shocked to see in this Alam article that the prestigious French secondary school Lycee Descartes in Rabat refused to allow a school girl to take her entrance exam because she was wearing a head covering.  The private school justified the exclusion based on its deference to French law.  However, Moroccan law does not allow for private schools owned/operated by foreign governments or entities to enforce laws that are at odds with Moroccan law.  It will be interesting to see how the PJD (the Islamist party running Morocco at the moment) will react to this.

I will discuss this story, which though posted in April, has been going on since January at least, in more detail soon.

Feminism fail: Jadaliyya blames illiterates and illiteracy for causing prostitution

In a story called "A Monarchical Affair: From Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula," from 10 April 2012, Samia Errazzouki writing for Jadaliyya discusses the relationship between Morocco and Gulf countries. While her article covers some important and interesting information, she nonetheless falls into the all-too-common 'illiterates are ruining the world' trap. About two thirds through her article, she writes:

"Aside from the lack of legislation that addresses sex trafficking, high illiteracy and poverty rates, especially in rural areas, have turned the sex industry in Morocco into a lucrative market."

A quick reading of this sentence might not reveal the offensiveness of her point, so allow me to draw it out for you. First of all, how many times do we need to be reminded that CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION. In other words, high rates of illiteracy correlate with increased lucrativeness in the sex industry, at least according to Errazzouki. Fine. I need to get back to finishing my dissertation, so I am not going to take the time to look that one up. But illiteracy does not CAUSE prostitution or make prostitution a more appealing or make sex work a more lucrative career. In fact, both illiteracy and prostitution are caused by a complex set of structural factors rooted in patriarchy, economic inequality, and poverty. While it is true that there are sex workers who claim that they entered into sex work by choice, there are also sex workers who enter the trade because it pays better than cashiering at Kmart, or in the case of rural Morocco, anything else. Illiteracy doesn't cause women to become prostitutes, and being illiterate certainly doesn't increase a sex worker's earning potential, as Errazzouki's ambiguously worded sentence might suggest. More troubling, claiming that "high illiteracy...[has] turned the sex industry in Morocco into a lucrative market" in Morocco does not go into enough detail about who is profiting and how.

In any case, there is a lot more I could say about this, but I need to get back to my chapter on gender relations in Morocco so I can get my Ph.D. already...

Monday, April 16, 2012

BITCHfest: a very brief critique

A year ago during a long bus ride from Montreal to Boston, I read the book Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine (Miya-Jervis, Lisa, and Andi Zeisler. Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.).

I remember the book being great, and I am finally incorporating my notes and thoughts from it into my dissertation on the role of illiterate women in grassroots activism. I especially enjoyed two chapters by Rachel Fudge: Celebrity Jeopardy: The Perils of Feminist Fame (pages 125-133) and Girl, Unreconstructed: Why Girl Power is Bad for Feminism (pages 155-161). In both chapters, Fudge provides some great nuggets about feminism, such as the notion that women and men “should have equal access to the public realm” and feminism can be “used to describe anything that is culturally oppositional or seeks social change.”

However, I wrote a note to myself expressing disappointment at the frequent missed opportunities to discuss the feminization of poverty or the importance of including poor women in re-development efforts in their own communities. The absence of these ideas struck me because a lot of what I see when I deconstruct the world is the result of reading Bitch Magazine, where I learned about interesting subjects like the non-disabled privilege and thin privilege and other eye-opening, life-changing topics that had never occurred to me.

Another missed mark is Fudge's comment that in cases where women are reluctant to adopt the label ‘feminist’ it is because they are reluctant “to be allied with anything that implies they are weak, or victimized, or unequal.” But this overlooks groups like Islamic feminists who reject the label feminist for other reasons, such is its association with secularism or westernization or colonialism. I can forgive her these missed opportunities because I love the takeaway, in my own words: Feminism isn’t just about giving women choices. It’s about a collective struggle, not a personal decision. It is about politicizing and contextualizing cultural messages about gender and behavior.

Anyhow, the entire book is a great read with a few missed opportunities.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Amina Filali--Moroccan woman forced to marry her rapist

There has been a lot of news coverage of the young woman Amina Filali, who was forced to marry her rapist. Her parents consented to the marriage. The Moroccan daily Al Massae [المساء] seems to be the first news source to cover the story; however, the story on their site is no longer available, and I am not entirely sure about the date of publication (sometime on or before 13 March 2012). This is the original story in Arabic:

[طفلة قاصر تنتحر احتجاجا على تزويجها مغتصبها في العرايش]

Morocco World News seems to be the first news source to cover the story in English on 13 March 2012. The same source published additional information on 14 March 2012. It didn't take long for the story to become viral, in English, Arabic, and other languages.

You can read more in English here:

16-Year-Old Girl Kills Self After Forced Marriage To Rapist
Morocco protest after raped Amina Filali kills herself
Morocco outraged over suicide of Amina Filali, who was forced to marry her rapist
Morocco suicide victim of family and society

You can read more in Arabic here:

حتجاجات في المغرب ضد قانون "زواج ضحية الاغتصاب

احتجاجات في المغرب ضد قانون الاغتصاب

Transcript: Prof John P. Entelis on 'The Future of Democracy in the Maghreb: Algeria in Comparative Perspective' (from 14 March 2012)

The following is from the H-MAGHRIB listserv:

John P. Entelis, Professor of political Science at Fordham University (New York), gave an important lecture at CSID-Tunisia on Tuesday, March 13th 2012, on "The Future of Democracy in the Maghreb: Algeria in Comaparative Perspective", which was then followed by an open debate with scholars and civil society activists.

See below for CSID's full transcript of the lecture, in both French (first) and English (last).

To view the complete email with photos:
For the lecture video:

Tanscription du Text en Francais

La nouvelle que l'épouse du colonel Mouammar Kadhafi et trois de ses enfants avaient trouvé l'asile politique en Algérie voisine alors même que son régime était sur le point de s'effondrer n'a surpris personne, vu l'effort continu de ce pays à réaffirmer son héritage révolutionnaire, fruit de 132 années d'occupation coloniale et de presque huit ans de guerre de libération nationale. Cependant, cette lutte révolutionnaire ancrée dans l'histoire a été routinisée il y a bien longtemps. Le mythe nationaliste résultant, défini par la bureaucratie et orchestré par l'élite, a autant pour objectif de maintenir le statu quo politique que de servir de modèle de révolte populaire contre un régime hégémonique, qu'il soit imposé par l'étranger ou comploté de l'intérieur.

La répugnance de l'Algérie à abandonner ses corévolutionnaires de Libye résulte d'un cadre de référence idéologique dépassé mais cependant toujours dominant par lequel l'Algérie voit le monde et veut être vue par lui. Elle traduit aussi une réticence à accepter les nouvelles réalités géopolitiques et stratégiques que le Printemps arabe a créées en Afrique du Nord et au Moyen-Orient.

Cette perspective immobiliste existe dans le contexte des défis fondamentaux auxquels est actuellement confronté le système politique algérien sur trois axes différents mais liés. Le premier challenge est une lutte des élites pour le pouvoir, opposant la classe gouvernante et les services de renseignement omnipotents. Deuxièmement, la bataille pour la suprématie économique entre les « nationalistes des ressources » et les réformistes économiques a conduit à une impasse politique. Ce conflit tourne autour du contrôle de la « poule aux œufs d'or », c'est-à-dire la Sonatrach, l'énorme groupe pétrolier et gazier national. Pour finir, des divisions intergénérationnelles empoisonnent les relations entre l'État et la société. Une jeunesse insatisfaite, désillusionnée et désespérée, souvent sur-éduquée mais sous-employée, est descendue dans la rue, en une série de grèves sauvages, manifestations publiques et autres formes de protestations contre le régime. Ces manifestations signalent une rupture permanente avec le grand contrat social sous-entendu dans le mantra idéologique post-indépendance, « la révolution pour le peuple et par le peuple ».

Des développements récents indiquent, aux plus hauts niveaux de l'autorité gouvernementale, une lutte entre élites pour le pouvoir impliquant les trois piliers de l'État algérien : l'armée et les services de renseignement, la Sonatrach, qui constitue le moteur économique du pays, et l'élite dirigeante du parti au pouvoir, le Front de Libération National. Début janvier 2010, un bouleversement politique d'envergure nationale a touché l'équipe dirigeante de la Sonatrach. Le président de la société, Mohammed Meziane, ainsi que trois des quatre vice-présidents, ont été licenciés à la suite d'une enquête relative à une affaire de corruption publique, enquête diligentée par le principal service de renseignements du pays, le Département du renseignement et de la sécurité ou DRS, dirigé par le très influent général Mohamed « Toufik » Mediène.

Étant donné la relation directe entre Meziane et son patron, Chakib Khelil, le ministre de l'énergie, des mines et de l'industrie, ce dernier s'est lui même trouvé indirectement impliqué très peu de temps après l'éclatement du scandale. Le ministre n'a pas été inculpé mais simplement démis de son poste influent lors d'un remaniement gouvernemental. Un mois plus tard, un autre événement marquant, à savoir l'assassinat d'Ali Tounsi, chef de la police nationale, la Direction générale de la sûreté nationale ou DGSN, a entraîné d'importants bouleversements au niveau ministériel.

Tounsi n'était pas un simple flic, mais une figure clé de l'appareil de sécurité du gouvernement, ayant dirigé la DGSN pendant plus de dix ans. Sous la présidence d'Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Tounsi a modernisé la police nationale, supervisant une expansion rapide du personnel et faisant construire dans tous le pays des douzaines de nouveaux postes de police dans le cadre du programme anti-terrorisme du gouvernement. Le fort soutien par Bouteflika des efforts de Tounsi faisait partie de la stratégie plus large du président visant à créer une force de sécurité puissante, loyale à l'exécutif et indépendante du DRS. Bien que Tounsi ait été autrefois colonel dans l'armée, il avait rejoint la vie civile depuis plusieurs années. Par conséquent, certains analystes ont vu un lien entre l'enquête du DRS sur les dirigeants de la Sonatrach proches de Bouteflika et le meurtre du chef de la police.

Bien que le haut commandement de l'armée (autrement dit, le pouvoir) ait joué un rôle déterminant dans l'accès de Bouteflika à la présidence de l'Algérie en 1999, depuis cette date et après deux réélections de suite en 2004 et 2009, Bouteflika a graduellement rétabli son autorité sur ses patrons militaires. Grâce à l'élimination d'un grand nombre d'officiers supérieurs clés par une combinaison de retraites forcées, de nominations ambassadoriales et de décès dus à l'age, il a pu concentrer le pouvoir ultime au sein de l'exécutif, avec lui à sa tête. Cette tentative de modifier l'équilibre des pouvoirs au détriment de l'armée et en faveur de l'autorité civile n'a pas été appréciée par le général Mediène, le chef vieillissant mais puissant du DRS et l'éminence grise absolue du pays.

D'autre part, l'analyse du conflit entre les « nationalistes des ressources » et les réformistes économiques est cruciale pour comprendre les manœuvres du gouvernement. Quand, à la fin mai 2010, Bouteflika a annoncé le remaniement ministériel, les implications politiques du scandale de corruption étaient encore en train de se jouer. Finalement, 14 hommes, dont la majorité avait occupé des postes de direction à la Sonatrach, ont été inculpés pour avoir participé à l'attribution directe de contrats à des sociétés de service internationales. Ils ont été remplacés par des individus plus proches des nationalistes de ressources, des conservateurs politiques de la vieille école et de l'armée.

Trois membres importants du gouvernement Bouteflika ont été démis de leur poste ministériel, ce qui a porté un coup aux efforts de Bouteflika visant à détourner l'économie et la politique algériennes de leur passé trop autoritaire pour les orienter vers un avenir plus libéral et pluraliste. Les ministres limogés, étroitement associés aux politiques économiques réformistes, étaient Chakib Khelil du ministère de l'énergie, Abdelhamid Temmar du ministère de la promotion des investissements et Nourredine Zerhouni du ministère de l'intérieur. La confluence des événements dramatiques que je viens de décrire assure pratiquement que la ligne dure des nationalistes des ressources déterminera la direction de l'économie nationale, y compris le statut légal, administratif et financier de la Sonatrach, à court et à moyen terme.

Ces changements gouvernementaux sont significatifs car les trois hommes démis de leur poste prestigieux étaient professionnellement, politiquement et personnellement proches du président algérien. Khelil et Temmar, par exemple, étaient au centre des efforts de Bouteflika, au début de son second mandat, visant à ouvrir le pays à plus d'investissements étrangers, en particulier dans le secteur de l'énergie, efforts auxquels l'armée s'est systématiquement opposée.

En tant que ministre de l'intérieur, Zerhouni s'appliquait à exercer les pleins pouvoirs de la présidence. À son poste précédent, il contrôlait la DGSN, le service de police qui avait été sensiblement renforcé, soi-disant pour soutenir la « guerre contre la terreur », mais aussi pour compenser le pouvoir de l'armée et du DRS. Désormais, à titre de « premier ministre adjoint », un poste nouveau et non défini, Zerhouni n'a plus les mêmes pouvoirs.

Ces mouvements de personnel reflètent un changement de politique plus large dans des zones clés de l'économie, en particulier le secteur de l'énergie. Khelil et Temmar sont devenus tous deux les représentants du moment libéral dans l'histoire économique algérienne récente, le premier ayant été chargé de la libéralisation de l'industrie des hydrocarbures dans laquelle des sociétés étrangères devaient être autorisées à détenir une part majoritaire des licences de pétrole et de gaz en amont et de l'industrie connexe en aval. Temmar, lui, s'est vu chargé de la mise en oeuvre d'une politique de privatisation destinée à vendre plus de 1000 entreprises d'État. Toutefois, ces cinq dernières années, les deux ministres avaient été entravés par une stratégie de régime de plus en plus conservatrice et, de toute façon, avaient depuis longtemps cessé de promouvoir des réformes axées sur le marché.

Le Printemps arabe est arrivé à un moment critique de l'histoire moderne de l'Algérie alors qu'un État et une société sont plongés dans une grande incertitude. Bien que les manifestations contre l'État n'aient pas atteint les mêmes proportions qu'en Tunisie, en Libye, en Syrie ou au Yémen, le mouvement de protestation reflète bien un fort clivage au sein du corps politique. En Algérie, l'écart entre l'État et la société n'a jamais été aussi grand qu'aujourd'hui. Un grand public profondément mécontent réclame le changement à une élite gouvernante apparemment indifférente, sinon méprisante. La liste des griefs de la majorité des Algériens ordinaires touche toutes les catégories de la société, de l'économie et de la politique ; ces griefs ont trouvé leur expression dans des actes de protestation quasi quotidiens et d'autres formes de désobéissance civile.

Certes, de nombreux facteurs limitent le degré de changement politique via la contestation populiste en Algérie. La férocité d'un appareil militarisé déterminé à se maintenir au pouvoir à n'importe quel prix n'est pas le seul obstacle à la révolution. D'autres facteurs jouent également un rôle important : la taille du pays, la diversité de sa population et l'utilisation de la richesse générée par le pétrole pour apaiser des classes mécontentes. D'autre part, le souvenir récent d'une guerre civile sanglante qui a fait 200 000 victimes, ainsi que les attaques continues du groupe terroriste Al-Qaeda au Maghreb islamique (AQMI), hantent la conscience nationale et agissent comme un frein à une rébellion intérieure à grande échelle.

Pendant ce temps, la population jeune de l'Algérie, majoritaire dans le pays, a commencé à articuler une vision politique très éloignée de celle de l'élite gouvernante vieillissante du pays. La phraséologie archaïque du passé est désormais remplacée par des revendications explicites pour la liberté politique, la démocratie et la dignité humaine. L'émergence d'un groupe peu coordonné de figures d'opposition connu sous le nom de Coordination nationale pour le changement et la démocratie a été le fer de lance d'une révolte populiste contre le régime depuis le début 2011, qui s'inspire dans une grande mesure des intifadas qui ont lieu en Afrique du Nord et au Moyen Orient. Mais l'Algérie est-elle le prochain pays sur la liste ?

Bien qu'il ait déclaré le contraire, il est peu probable que le président affaibli achève son troisième mandat en 2014 car il est visiblement malade, et le système constitutionnel ne prévoit pas de mécanisme clair pour une succession politique. En attendant, un individu qui lui-même, à 72 ans, montre des signes de faiblesse physique, est à la tête d'un appareil de sécurité national enhardi. L'industrie des hydrocarbures, dont proviennent pratiquement toutes les sources de revenus de l'État, demeure manipulée politiquement et mal gérée économiquement. Par conséquent, une société civile de plus en plus agitée ne veut plus être apaisée par des promesses rhétoriques ou des récompenses économiques à court terme en échange d'une obéissance politique.

Ce qui est clair, c'est que les anciens modes d'établissement et d'application des lois devront être fondamentalement reconfigurés pour répondre aux revendications populistes pour la promotion sociale, l'opportunité économique et les libertés politiques. Comme c'est le cas depuis la fondation de la république, c'est l'armée qui fera que cette transition se déroulera paisiblement ou dans la violence.

English Transcript:

The news that Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi's wife and three of his children found political refuge in neighboring Algeria even as his regime was on the verge of collapse came as no surprise given the country's long-standing effort to reaffirm its revolutionary heritage, drawn from 132 years of colonial occupation and nearly eight years of a war of national liberation. Yet this historically-rooted revolutionary struggle was long ago routinized. The resulting bureaucratically defined and elitist directed nationalist myth is intended as much to sustain the political status quo as to serve as an exemplar of peoples' revolt against hegemonic rule, whether foreign imposed or domestically conspired.

Algeria's reluctance to abandon its fellow revolutionary in Libya flowed from an outdated yet still dominant ideological frame of reference through which Algeria sees the world and wants to be seen by it. It also reflects an unwillingness to accept the new geopolitical and strategic realities that the Arab Spring has brought to North Africa and the Middle East.

This "stand pat" perspective exists in the context of fundamental challenges currently confronting the Algerian political system along three different but related axes. The first challenge is an intra-elite struggle for power between the governing class and the all-powerful intelligence services. Secondly, the battle for economic supremacy between resource nationalists and economic reformers has led to a political standstill. This conflict revolves around control over the "goose that lays the golden eggs" -- Sonatrach, the country's gargantuan national oil and gas company. Finally, intergenerational divisions plague state-society relations. Discontented, disillusioned, and desperate youth -- often over-educated but under-employed -- have taken to the streets in repeated wildcat strikes, public demonstrations, and other forms of anti-regime protest. Such protests signal a permanent rupture with the grand social contract implied in the post-independence ideological mantra, "the revolution for the people and by the people."

Recent developments point to an intra-elite power struggle at the highest levels of state authority involving the three pillars of the Algerian state: the military and intelligence agency; Sonatrach, representing the economic engine of the country; and the ruling elite in the governing party (Front de Libération National). In early January 2010, there was a political upheaval of national proportions affecting Sonatrach's senior management team. The president of Sonatrach, Mohammed Meziane, and three of the company's four vice presidents were fired as a result of a public corruption investigation. Algeria's top security and intelligence agency, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS), headed by the influential General Mohammed "Tewfik" Mediène, initiated the investigation.

Given the direct relationship between Meziane and his boss, Energy, Mines and Industry Minister Chakib Khelil, it was not long after the scandal broke out that Khelil himself was indirectly implicated. The minister was not charged but simply removed from his important position in a government reshuffle. A month later, major shifts in cabinet appointments followed another significant event -- the assassination of Ali Tounsi, head of the national police or Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale (DGSN).

Tounsi was no mere flic (cop), but a key figure in the government security apparatus having directed the DGSN for over ten years. Under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Tounsi modernized the national police force, overseeing a rapid expansion in personnel, and constructing dozens of new police stations across the country as part of the government's anti-terrorism program. Bouteflika's strong support for Tounsi's efforts was part of the president's larger strategy to create a powerful security force loyal to the executive and independent of the DRS. Although Tounsi himself was once a colonel in the army, he had been a civilian for many years. Thus, some analysts saw a connection between the DRS investigation of Sonatrach officials close to Bouteflika and the murder of the police chief.

Although the army high command (or le pouvoir) was instrumental in securing the Algerian presidency for Bouteflika in 1999, since that time -- and following two successful back-to-back presidential reelections in 2004 and 2009 -- Bouteflika has gradually reasserted authority over his military patrons. Through a combination of forced retirements, ambassadorial assignments, and the age-related deaths of many key high army officers, he was able to concentrate ultimate power within the executive office, with him at its head. This attempt at shifting the balance of power away from le pouvoir in favor of civilian authority did not sit well with Gen. Mediène -- the aging but powerful head of the DRS and the country's ultimate power broker.

In addition, unpacking the conflict between "resource nationalists" and economic reformers is crucial to understanding the government's maneuvers. When Bouteflika announced the cabinet reshuffle at the end of May 2010, the political implications of the corruption scandal were still playing out. Ultimately, 14 men, the majority of whom formerly served as senior officials of Sonatrach, were indicted for their involvement in the direct awarding of contracts to international service companies. They were replaced by individuals identified more closely with resource nationalists, the old-line political conservatives, and le pouvoir.

In a blow to Bouteflika's efforts to redirect the Algerian economy and polity away from its overly authoritarian past into a more liberal, pluralistic future, three principal members of Bouteflika's government were removed from their cabinet positions. The sacked ministers, closely associated with reformist economic policies, were Chakib Khelil from the energy ministry, Abdelhamid Temmar from the investment promotion ministry, and Nourredine Zerhouni from the interior ministry. The confluence of the dramatic events described above virtually assures that hard-line resource nationalists will be determining the direction of the national economy -- including the legal, administrative, and financial status of Sonatrach -- in the immediate and intermediate future.

These governmental changes are significant because all three of the men removed from their high-profile positions were professionally, politically, and personally close to the Algerian president. Khelil and Temmar, for example, were central to Bouteflika's efforts early on in his second term to open up the country to increased foreign investment, especially in the energy sector. Le pouvoir consistently opposed these efforts.

As interior minister, Zerhouni endeavored to exercise the full powers of the presidency. In his previous post, he had control of the DGSN, the police agency that had been significantly strengthened, ostensibly to reinforce the "war on terror," but also as a means of counter-balancing the power of le pouvoir -- the army and the DRS. Now as "deputy prime minister," a new and undefined position, Zerhouni pales in comparison.

The changes in personnel reflect a broader policy shift in key areas of the economy, especially the energy sector. Both Khelil and Temmar came to represent the liberal moment in recent Algerian economic history, with the former tasked with the liberalization of the hydrocarbons industry in which foreign companies were to be allowed majority ownership in upstream oil and gas licenses and related downstream industry. Temmar was given responsibility for implementing a privatization policy intended to sell off more than 1,000 state-owned enterprises. But in the past five years, the two ministers had been undermined by an increasingly conservative regime strategy and, in any case, had long since ceased to promote market-oriented reforms.

The Arab Spring arrived at a critical juncture in Algeria's modern history as a state and society are in the midst of great uncertainty. While anti-state behavior has not reached the proportions experienced in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, or Yemen, the protest movement does reflect a deep cleavage within the body politic. The gap between state and society in Algeria has never been wider than it is today. A deeply discontented mass public is demanding change from an apparently indifferent, if not contemptuous, ruling elite. The list of grievances held by the majority of ordinary Algerians cuts across every category of society, economy, and polity; grievances that have found expression in virtually daily acts of protests and other forms of civil disobedience.

To be sure, there are numerous factors that limit the degree of political change via populist protest in Algeria. The ferocity of a militarized apparatus determined to maintain itself in power at any cost is not the only impediment to revolution. Factors such as the size of the country, the diversity of its population, and the oil-generated wealth used to placate aggrieved classes also play a significant role. Furthermore, the recent memory of bloody civil war that left 200,000 dead along with the continued attacks by the terrorist group, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), hangs over the national consciousness, serving as a brake to large-scale domestic rebellion.

Meanwhile, Algeria's youthful population, constituting the country's majority, has begun to articulate a political vision far removed from the country's aging ruling elite. The archaic phraseology of the past is now being replaced by explicit demands for political freedom, democracy, and human dignity. The emergence of a loosely coordinated group of opposition figures known as National Council for Democratic Change (Coordination nationale pour le changement et la démocratie) has spearheaded a populist revolt against the regime since early 2011, inspired in great measure by the intifadas taking place in North Africa and the Middle East. But is Algeria "next"?

Although he has declared otherwise, the weakened president is unlikely to complete his third presidential term in 2014 because of visible illness, and the constitutional system does not provide a clear mechanism for political succession. Meanwhile, an individual who is himself, at 72, exhibiting signs of physical weakness, heads an emboldened national security apparatus. The hydrocarbon industry, from which virtually all sources of state revenues derive, remains politically manipulated and economically mismanaged. As such, an increasingly animated civil society is no longer willing to be placated by either rhetorical promises or short-term economic rewards as condition for political compliance.

What is clear is that the previous modes of rule-making and rule-enforcement will have to be fundamentally reconfigured to respond to populist demands for social advancement, economic opportunity, and political freedoms. Whether this process develops peacefully or violently is ultimately in the hands of le pouvoir -- as it has been since the founding of the republic.