From the Editors
The New York Times says Jadaliyya "Brings New Life to Arab Studies." Read about it by clicking here.
[This post is part of an ongoing Profile of a Contemporary Conduit series on Jadaliyya that seeks to highlight distinct voices primarily in and from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.]
Jadaliyya (J): What motivated you to start blogging
Baki 7our Mansour (B7M): At the end of 2009, I started tweeting and my first real interventions were during what was called "the football war" between Egypt and Algeria. We then reached a pinnacle, in both countries, regarding the political use of football. And after that, the Arab revolutions started, and I quite immediately supported the changes in Tunisia and Egypt. Solidarity with oppressed Arab people overcomes the irritation born from football events.
But Twitter has its own shortcomings, which are related to its technical architecture and inseparable with the real-time use that it is made of. On the one hand, it is difficult to access one's own tweets, and on the other hand, the published information may become outdated very quickly (see example here). I then felt the need to express my ideas in a more continuous and durable way. To divert a famous Latin proverb, "tweets fly and blog posts remain," as long as your hosting account is still functioning.
Jadaliyya: What topics/themes do you cover and why?
B7M: Different themes on Algerian politics or on geopolitical events in the Sahel, and a few articles related to social networks. In fact, my areas of interest are much more diverse, but I limit myself to these issues to avoid the risk of dispersion.
As to why my interest in the secret services? Because they represent the main part of the deep state. The dark corridors of power are more significant than the political theater offered in the media. My interest in the garagouz politics is weak. Garagouz are Arabic puppets. A good illustration of these are the mute and useless members of parliament when they raise their hands at the vote. The Algerian puppeteers are in the shadows and stay unknown to the public. How can one not be curious?
Why my focus on Jihadist movements in the Sahel? Well, the Arab and Muslim world has been shaken for decades by an ideological war. There is on the one side a peaceful Islam–serene and tolerant, with its customs and traditions. And on the other side, there is an alienating branch of Islam–aggressive and intolerant. The main battle here takes place between peace and war. This is a war within the Arab and Muslim sphere, between warriors and moderates. You can guess who is winning as long as the moderates do not react firmly to violent speech and acts.
Let me be clear, I have no problem with Tablighis, Wahhabis, Salafis, as long as they are peaceful. For me, they constitute a sort of Islamic orthodoxy--other religions also have people who choose to live their faith in a singular way.
But the use of violence is totally unacceptable. The violent use of Islam for political ends should definitely be rejected. As a proverb cited by my grandmother, “The ember is felt only by the burned one.” One cannot revoke his own life course, and it is clear that what happened in Algeria – especially in the 90s – affects my writings on this subject. Do not underestimate the extremists and their totalitarian ideology. Do not make the common mistake of complacency toward violence, including harassment and violent speech. And do not antagonize the Muslims who are peaceful. These are my guidelines on this issue.
Jadaliyya: How has your blogging evolved since you initially began writing?
B7M: It is bilingual French-English, but as most readers of the blog are French speaking, I opted more and more for fast and easy writing in French. Any blogger writes to be read and recognized as a respected voice. I try to give another point of view. It is clear that the major news sites are guided by their own economic constraints, and many new websites run after the buzz with catchy titles, including the right keywords for the Google bots to reap the maximuma amount of visits and earn some advertising money. I am not in that group; I sometimes approach taboo issues like the harkis, the auxiliaries of the French army, or the people missing from the civil war of the 90s. And even if I do, I do not always have enough time to perfect an article, I force myself to publish because it is often a relief to deliver it to the public view.
Jadaliyya: In your 6 November post about Ansar Al-Dine, you compared the blunder of a military solution to the Malian crisis to previous military failures in dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan. What benefits do you think would come of continuing the negotiation process with local Islamists like Ansar Al-Dine, and do you think that the process could come with any drawbacks?
B7M: Unfortunately, the main leaders of Ansar Al-Dine betrayed the peace process with their offensive in southern Mali. Neither the local jihadists, nor the Malian government were up to the urgent challenges. In the short term, weapons talk, but there is no doubt that one day or another, there will be a return to the negotiating table.
Globally speaking, jihadists live to make war, as this is substantial to their ideas. When they settle, build state institutions, and respect their neighbors and international law, we do not call them jihadists. Instead, they take a name of their own. Just have a look at Saudi Arabian history for an example of that.
There was a hope that the Tuareg leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly, would be the credible interlocutor for achieving a convergence of views with Bamako. In the rebuilding of the Republic of Mali, within a probable federal framework taking into account local specificities, a compromise was expected with the application of a soft sharia in the Kidal region – something in accordance with universal principles. But I do not think this will happen with the actual leaders of Ansar Al-Dine. They betrayed an agreement signed in Algiers on 21 December, stipulating an end to hostile activities. Before the ink had dried on the paper, they were already on their all-wheel-drive vehicles, preparing the war campaign. These leaders seem permanently disqualified. Who can guarantee that they would respect their own signature in a future agreement?
The discussion with the radical Islamists will resume one day or the other. No wave of aerial bombardment is going to eradicate their ideology. They will stay in the Malian landscape no matter what happens on the ground. A few weeks ago, I heard Jean Amécourt, a former ambassador of France in Afghanistan, saying that in order to solve the Afghan crisis, it is necessary to go through a negotiation with the Taliban. An intra-Afghan dialogue with the Taliban was held in Chantilly Castle near Paris. Even though this idea angered some thinkers rooted in old ideas, the solution to the crisis in Mali will be through discussion. Who knows, maybe it will also be in the elegant salons of Chantilly Castle.
Jadaliyya: Regarding France/Mali, you have tweeted, “as the saying goes 'a state/country has no friends, only interests.'" What interests of France are at stake in Mali, and how and why has this resulted in French pressure to pursue a military solution to the Malian crisis?
B7M: Yes, I do remember this tweet. It was a reply to a Malian tweep who was overconfident in the friendship between France and Mali. General de Gaulle and other diplomats, from Lord Palmerston in the eighteenth century to Kissinger in the 70s, had made this and similar statements.
As a world power and sort of peacekeeper in this part of the world, France has a significant military presence in the Sahelian-Saharan part of Africa. Now this region risks a new sequence of the domino theory. A Mali controlled by jihadists is a big threat for its neighbors, especially Niger and Mauritania. If unstopped and undefeated, the international jihadist fighters will launch another war sooner or later. The fire would inevitably spread elsewhere. The sooner the fire is under control, the better.
Regarding French interests, the visible part is the company Areva. It runs uranium mines in Niger. Uranium is then transported to the port of Cotonou in Benin, and, once processed, gives nuclear fuel used in power plants. As for the invisible part, we do not know the region's potential in hosting rare earths, oil, gas, precious metals, and others commodities. And then there is the geo-strategic factor. An example to illustrate this point is that a pipeline project between Nigeria and Europe, through Niger and Algeria, has been postponed until the situation becomes more stable. But let us not confine "interests" to only its materialistic aspects. In today's interconnected world, what happens to Gao and Kidal can have consequences in New York , Paris, or Algiers.
"A state has no friends, only interests." With friendship, we are in the irrational and emotional, while with interests we are in the more rational field. Fortunately, the former "friends" of Gaddafi did not get involved in the Libyan conflict. Somehow, countries are more comfortable and the future is much more predictable knowing that interests prevail over the emotional.
Jadaliyya: In another blog post, you write, “Le progrès ne s'importe pas par containers” to Algeria. What steps must Algeria take to reach what you would consider real progress? What mistakes has the Algerian state made in that regard in the past?
B7M: Not just containers are imported. Skills and know-how come from abroad, via Chinese workers, Indian engineers, and European consultants. The lack of knowledge inside the country - coupled with the predation of corruption - explains the soaring inflation of infrastructure budgets. The cost per kilometer of a highway is higher in Algeria than in Europe for a lower quality. The future Great Mosque of Algiers is planned to be more expensive than the Burj al-Khalifa Tower in Dubai. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars of public investment, Algeria has no big companies in the field of construction or in the industry, apart from the oil behemoth. Sonatrach.
Algeria should invest more in human assets. This country is like a machine on which maintenance is not carried out properly. When malfunctions and deficiencies appear, the managers just get used to it with time. Abnormal becomes the new normal.
Of course, the state builds a lot. But what is the purpose of socioeconomic organizations that do not achieve their primary missions? Sclerotic and corrupt administrations, hospitals which do not treat patients in good conditions, universities that produce untrained graduates . . . What is the meaning of these inaugurations of inefficient public facilities? The Algerian state likes to invest in concrete but not in people.
Training and knowledge accumulation is the weak point of Algeria. So the first step of progress should be to renovate the education system and get it back to its initial mission. Invest and believe in people.
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