ALGIERS – Shaken by the strength of bloggers and Internet users opposed to a fourth term for outgoing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the head of state’s campaign team didn’t wait long before equipping themselves with their own virtual communication tools.
The unprecedented online confrontation has put the Bouteflika’s supporters on the defensive. His team opened Facebook and Twitter accounts in the name of the president, created a YouTube channel to host videos of his campaign, and developed a web radio station to counter views on programs such as “Café presse présidentielle,” a talk show that brings journalists from several Algerian news sources together.
For weeks, they have been critically commenting about the April 17 presidential election from the kitchen of the facilities that host the “Maghreb Emergent” website. Meanwhile, Bouteflika’s web radio station is broadcasting slogans, songs and testimonies of supporters in a continuous, around-the-clock loop. The battle is raging.
Through social networks, the campaign has become more than just national. It is also reaching beyond borders, in part because Algerian authorities have made visas harder to obtain for foreign journalists.
Young people from parties close to Bouteflika have to resort to social media because it is the only way to keep alive the campaign of a candidate who is ubiquitous in pictures but otherwise absent from the public scene.
Silent thematic clips defending the record of the president, who has been in power since 1999, have been posted with text in French. “Water for all,” one of these short videos proclaims. “Drinkable water in Algeria has increased from 123 liters per day and per person in 2000 to 178 liters in 2014,” it says. Another video notes that “between 2000 and 2013, the total length of the national road network has increased from 104,324 to 118,734 kilometers.”
The video clip of a song performed by some 60 artists — a sort of Algerian “We Are The World” — including singer Cheb Khaled and humorist Smaïn, has traveled a chaotic path. It was uploaded March 30, then removed after a wave of hostile reactions, but has since reappeared online again. Internet users lashed out at the artists that they bluntly called “shameless,” leading some of those involved to provide embarrassed explanations in the press.
Although President Bouteflika’s name is not mentioned, the lyrics are unambiguous: “Let me sing … / Let me be proud of my president who took an oath and held the promise of millions of martyrs.” At the very end of the clip, a portrait of the president appears.
This was a reply to other artists on social networks, especially rappers, who have been vocal against the president’s re-election. The attacks are prolific and the comments scathing.