Algiers recalls France envoy over Hirak documentary controversy

Algerians reject French Hirak documentary as 'stereotypical' as relations frost between countries
3 min read
28 May, 2020
A French documentary about the protest movement has created conflict between France and Algeria over its depiction of the government.
Algerians have been unable to gather due to Covid-19 fears [Getty]

A new French documentary about the protest movement in Algeria has caused controversy and frosted relations between the two countries, with many Algerians critical of the productions.

Algeria said Wednesday it would "immediately" recall its ambassador from France for consultations, after documentaries about the North African country's anti-government protest movement were aired on French public television.

The interior ministry said films, including two broadcast on Tuesday, "seemingly spontaneous and under the pretext of freedom of expression, are in fact attacks on the Algerian people and its institutions" including the army.

Citing the "recurrent character" of such programmes on French public TV, it singled out two documentaries broadcast on Tuesday by France 5 and the former colonial power's Parliamentary Channel

"Algeria, my love", aired by France 5, sparked fierce debates on social media. It told the story of the country's protest movement through the eyes of five Algerians in their twenties.

Unprecedented mass protests rocked Algeria early last year to demand the departure of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, sparked by the ailing 82-year-old's announcement that he would stand for a fifth term.

In April 2019 he resigned, and in December, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected on an official turnout of less than 40 percent. Analysts say participation was considerably lower.

Mass protests against the ruling system only halted when the novel coronavirus arrived in Algeria earlier this year.

The second film, "Algeria: the Promises of the Dawn" was
broadcast on France's Parliamentary Channel.

In its statement, the Algerian ministry cited what it said were "malicious and lasting intentions on the part of certain circles, which do not wish to see peaceful relations between Algeria and France after 58 years of independence".

 Mixed reactions

Algerians around the world have had mixed reactions to the documentaries.

Taking to Twitter, one user criticised Algeria, My Love, for its content. “The documentary that France 5 made doesn't represent the Algerian reality, having 3 kids talking about not being allowed to drink alcohol in public or having sex outside of marriage, these aren't the problems that Algeria has and the revolutionary hirak wasn't.

“For that and this report was just to create some chaos as usual.”

Another user thought it minimised the struggle of those in the Hirak movement, many of whom have since been arrested for their part in the movement.

“The documentary is a weak and pitiful depiction of the Algerian Youth’s struggle for a more equal society,” a Twitter user called “Sin” wrote.

 “Instead we got a stereotypical portrayal of Algerians tying [sic] to make Algeria westernized and complaining about futilities like drinking alcohol in public.”

Others pointed to France’s colonial past.

“As if France didn’t do enough to Algeria they made a documentary about our iconic hirak chatting s*** smhhhhh fans will be fans,” another Twitter user said.

Clamp down on free speech

The Algerian regime is exploiting coronavirus to defeat a protest movement that has shaken it to its core over the last year, analysts say.

Read more: INSAF: The Moroccan NGO helping society's most vulnerable survive the coronavirus lockdown

Despite protesters deciding to halt their weekly gatherings since the start of the public health crisis, repression of regime opponents has persisted.

Security forces have targeted young bloggers, independent journalists, online media and activists from the "Hirak" protest movement.

Rapidly adopted laws ostensibly aimed at preventing the dissemination of false news and hate speech have further stoked fears of an orchestrated campaign to muzzle free expression.

The new laws "aim to repress citizens' freedom of expression," said lawyer and activist Abdelouhab Chiter, a lecturer at the University of Bejaia.

A law on "spreading false information", he said, "was debated and passed by parliament in a single sitting, in the absence of almost half of its members".

Akram Belkaid, a journalist for the Oran daily, warned of "a return to the iron fist as in the 1970s".

Agencies contributed to this report.

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