On the surface of things, Algeria does not seem to be, at least to a certain degree, a country that hunts down those who speak up their minds. This is what an observer from outside of the borders, or even an Algerian naive citizen, would be tempted to believe, and for many reasons. The obvious and straightforward rationale behind why anyone would think that the "new" government tolerates some basic level of freedom of speech is the fact that Algerians had undergone a somewhat "peaceful" process to overthrow the old and longstanding governing faces with success. Abdelaziz Bouteflika – the infamous grandfather of "presidency" – did now disappear for good, whereas his brother along with most of the previous ministers are now believed to be in jail. And in jail they are, but what kind of jail are they in? Nobody can tell. If citizens accomplished that successfully, without bloodshed or domestic chaos, one would quickly jump to the conclusion that Algeria has just entered a new era of progress and prosperity, in which freedom of expression is a pillar that guides the process and keeps it intact.
This following assumption lays at the very heart of hopeful citizens: give Algeria some time, and things will start sorting themselves out with the help and wisdom of the newly "legally elected" president. But if this can be seen and heard only on the surface of things, the truth is hanging far deeper from that.
The infamous Bouteflika did now disappear for good, whereas his brother along with most of the previous ministers are now believed to be in jail. And in jail they are, but what kind of jail are they in? Nobody can tell.
During the overthrown president's ruling, one could actually enjoy some type of expression in Broadcast Media (especially private news channels). There were few sarcastic shows that would mock the system directly or indirectly. For instance, in 2018's Ramadan, a highly sarcastic political TV series brought itself to the top of the trending ladder. The series followed the story of "Dakyous" and "Makyous", two brothers from the Algerian army during the war of independence with their trivial adventures and wanderings. But that was not just it, because every character was the representation or model of a well-known personality from the governing board. Every episode tackled a prevalent issue that thrived in today's Algerian society (the broken health system, the biased educational system, poverty, etc.). Dakyous was Abdelazziz Bouteflika in "disguise" and Makyous was his brother, Said Bouteflika. The show was never stopped and people continued to build analogies and laugh out loud on how brilliantly the mocking, criticism and freedom of expression were carried out. Other young and old actors alike did enjoy a certain degree of free space where they were granted the use of sarcasm as a tool to describe the degrading nature of everyday realities that surrounded and weighed down the typical Algerian woman and men.
Dakyous and Makyous Show
The show was scheduled to be on TV (specifically El Chourouk Channel) for its third season in 2020's Ramadan, when it was suddenly cancelled. This ambiguous cancelation surprised everybody, including the channel itself who did not explain nor clarify the "behind the scenes" of what had happened. Of course, rumors spread and everybody started coming up with reasons. The most dissatisfying one, carried out by the show makers themselves, was that nobody knows. They could not, however, hold themselves from expressing their disappointment. A flush of pain covered Nabil Assli's face (one of the main actors in the series) when he was trying to explain that nobody has any idea on why the show was stopped on a video that went viral on social media:
"why would anyone deprive people, during a full lockdown in the midst of an international health crisis from the fleeting relief of laughter...art doesn't take people to the streets, it's injustice that does and will always do; consider the French revolution, it wasn't a book or a writer that started it", he said. The show was not cancelled two years ago despite its direct pointedness to the then dominant governing faces, but it was cancelled when names changed, just because it had a political flavor to it.
Algeria's current government seems to be bound to accomplishing one and only mission: "preserving" the right to free speech and expression by throwing it in the deep shallows of silence, a sort of word starvation.
Another important aspect in the media is the news. The Algerian daily news had certainly changed since the new president took hold on power, but in a more alarming direction. And one could see that clearly in the complete "hushing" of the angry streets after December 2019's presidential election. A lot of people, though not as many as before the election, still went out to the streets and manifested peacefully.
The 51st students' marches on 11/02/2020
People's voices still repeated expressions like: "I do not remember that I elected", "Free Algeria, Free freedom of expression", "We demand a free democratic Algeria", etc. None of these outcries were aired on TV. Policemen, however, heard these voices clearly and carried them safely to the echoing walls of prison cells. The politician Karim Tabbou is a good example of somebody who was simply not in the same page with the seemingly new system and who has been on and off prison since the very beginning of the Hirak.
The system apparently does not want to stop at TV or at Algerian citizens who pulled themselves out of the comfort of their warm/chilling houses every Friday to use word and peace hoping for a looming democracy and transparency. But it went deeper than that by digging into people's personal Facebook profiles. Walid K. a twenty-two-year-old who created a Facebook group: "Hirak Memes", a group in which people would describe what they think about the current Algerian government using memes, was imprisoned in April. Walid was a "memer" whose Facebook profile along with his Facebook group made tons of people laugh. But now he is in jail, for nobody knows how long, thinking about his mother back home. If an inmate approached him and asked him what had brought him there, what would he say?
A meme? Sarcasm? A silly Facebook comment about how the economy is getting worse?
Walid K's facebook profile picture
The current government seems to be bound to accomplishing one and only mission: "preserving" the right to free speech and expression by throwing it in the deep shallows of silence. And silence has indeed many types. A far more serious issue is, therefore, looming in the skies, an issue that goes by the name of "word starvation" (and if one considers how people make memes; it will be tempting to add: hand starvation). And hashtags do not seem to be solving it. Because a hashtag is being eventually "hushtagged".