By Mouna Sadek
A growing number of Algerian youths are mobilising online to call for political change. In reality, however, these outspoken cyber-activists are acting in a far more reticent manner.
The outcome of a March 19th protest in Algiers was telling: of the 4,700 people who confirmed their attendance via Facebook, only a dozen showed up. Police officers and journalists seemed to outnumber the protesters by a large margin, which suggested to many an internet revolution is unlikely to take place.
“It’s all pointless if people don’t show up,” commented young internet user Zaid. “If we call on people to attend an event such as a sit-in and people remain at their screens, nothing will change.”
Campaigner Mourad Bouaziz, however, said that Facebook and Twitter had given impetus to a group known as “LMG – Libérez Mohamed Gharbi” (Free Mohamed Gharbi), named after the Algerian Legitimate Defence Group (GLD) member who received a life sentence in 2004 for killing a terrorist who had been harassing him. Under the pressure of internet activists, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika pardoned the “Patriot” in December 2010.
Long before the Arab rebellions broke out, Facebook group “Bezzef!” (Enough!) was created by writers Kamel Daoud, Chawki Amari and Mustapha Benfodil. According to the founders, the goal is to muster “the anger of everyone before unleashing it on the street in the hope that one day it will catch the fire and spell out the letters, ‘r, e, v, o, l, u, t, i, o, n'”.
“The streets are the only place that really unites all Algerians”, according to group members. Despite their efforts, however, the movement struggled to mobilise young people.
What could account for this lack of enthusiasm?
Online activists say that the number of internet users in Algeria is lower than in Tunisia, which has a much smaller population. According to independent web agency “Agence 84”, only 827,960 Algerians were registered on Facebook in April 2010, as compared with 1,666,860 Moroccans and 1,464,480 Tunisians.
Others, however, think that the collective memory of struggle and conflict informs Algerians’ tepid attitude.
Unlike Egyptians and Tunisians, Algerians are “traumatised by the chaos that was caused by the fight for freedom after 1988”, according to Sofiane Baroudi, a member of Movement of Independent Youths for Change (MJIC).
He added that Algerian young people had “lived under a state of emergency, amid violence” and “in a climate of closeness and marginalisation”.
“What if Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and so on had existed during the rebellion of October 1988?” members of Facebook group “Special Algerian Envoys” wondered. “Yes, that was 23 years ago. Twenty-three years during which we lived differently from the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
“The Algerian nation has lived through more than a decade of civil war, perhaps it is weary of conflict and aspires to peace,” they said.