Society

Algeria's Presidential Campaign Heats Up Online

Bouteflika's official Facebook page
Bouteflika's official Facebook page
Isabelle Mandraud

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ