By **Kamel Daoud**
Translated by **Suzanne Ruta**
Kamel Daoud edits the French language daily Le quotidien d’Oran where he contributes a popular chronique or tart commentary on the news under the title “Raina Raikoum” (“My Opinion, Your Opinion”).
Algeria like North Korea has only one state run TV station so people look to the newspapers, heavily censored though they are, for a breath of fresh air. Daoud has a following in Algeria and France who read him on facebook. This column ran March 13, 2011 after ten thousand gardes communaux, or local militia members, hired by the Algerian army in the 1990s to fight the Islamist armed groups in rural regions around the country, swarmed into Algiers, pushed their way past police barriers to demand a raise. The irony is that political demonstrations are banned in Algiers (as a security measure the regime says) and the new Coordinating Commitee for Democratic Change that brought out three thousand marchers on February 12, was blockaded by a deployment of 35,000 police. At a march by the same group in Oran that day, Daoud was beaten by the police. That became the subject of his next pithy column.
He is also a gifted novelist now completing a new version of The Stranger, narrated by the brother of the unnamed “Arabe” murdered by Meursault in Camus’ novel.
Algerians are quick to rebel as individuals. Then why not all together now, in one big push? Three months after Tunisia’s dictator fled and Egypt’s Pharoah resigned, that’s the basic question. What’s with us, anyway? Our revolutionary credentials are beyond solid, we are famous for our coups d’etat, first generation offspring of decolonization, and yet the current game of falling dominos doesn’t seem to interest us. Have we lost the revolutionary pride that won us top ranking in the Arab world for outrage and dissidence?
Global media have examined us and come up with a variety of explanations ranging from fear through exhaustion and including the unlikely notion of “a people generally content with their regime, despite minor grievances.” As for us, we tend to agree with a friend who explains Algeria’s predicament as a massive displacement of the population toward an absolute and irreversible Elsewhere. According to this friend, all Algerians, or nearly all, have ceased to live in Algeria, even those who physically reside there, tied to the soil by their shoe leather and a variety of insurmountable obstacles. “Everyone got out years ago.”
We share a common past, because of our dead, but our future is solitary.
Algerians, it seems, are a nation of boat people, they’re not sticking around to demand democratic reforms, they’ve made their getaway, on foot, by boat or in their heads. Bus stops, waiting rooms, airport transit lounges are not the place to talk about reinventing the nation. Some fled to the North, others into the depths of their souls. No one, in short, sees the use of making a revolution in a provisional country or risking death when what they want is to clear out.
Try to remember the last time there was anything like a national will: twenty years ago. Since then some people have died, others can’t manage to be born, and still others have that faraway look in their eye. In short, we’re all just spectators, like when you see people quarreling in a train station, but you’re worrying about your luggage, your sandwich or your ticket. This feeling is universal with us now: the campaign for reform finally breaks down into an individual struggle to get by. Our country is no longer a project we all share, it’s an obstacle each of us confronts alone.
And so our revolutions are of the every man for himself variety: Local militias, doctors, lawyers, architects, the unemployed, state oil company workers, journalists women, high school students etc. We share a common past, because of our dead, but our future is solitary, because each of us has children.
“Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.”
That’s our novel, those are our lines, spoken by thirty-six million strangers, sitting side by side. A bunch of Meursaults without Camus, products of the murder of Self and Other, in an absurd world under a meaningless sun.
Copyright 2011 Kamel Daoud
Kamel Daoud is editor in chief of the French language daily newspaper Quotidien d’Oran.
Suzanne Ruta is a translator and a book critic with the New York Times, Newsday, VLS, Bookforum. She is the author of To Algeria, with Love.