“L’esprit de novembre” “روح نوفمبر ” (The spirit of November) is an often repeated phrase in the Algerian political discourse. It is equivalent to the invocation of “The founding fathers” in American politics, and carries the weight of the ultimate reference in Algerian politics.
It is, of course, a reference to the call issued by the National Liberation Front (FLN) on November 1, 1954. This declaration, which marks the start of the Algerian war of independence, came as a decisive move that cut through years of indecision and internal disagreements within the Algerian national movement. Disagreements that reached a climax during the summer of 1954, when sharp divisions emerged and militants saw their faith in the Algerian cause seriously shattered. With its clearly stated goal, independence, and its broad program of restoring the sovereign democratic and social Algerian state, based on Islamic principles, this appeal fired up the imagination of Algerians and renewed their hope in a bright and prosperous future. Just like the modern “Yes We Can,” the FLN call was an incredibly ambitious, some would say utopian, project. It displayed a “can do” spirit that galvanized young Algerians of the period and gave them a sense of direction that would last a lifetime as they headed for the mountains with nothing more than a few old rifles to confront a mighty army.
At its best, a reference to the Spirit of November is an attempt to stir up passions and a sense of personal duty in trying to restore the determination and the solidarity needed, in the face of adversity, to reach noble goals. Unfortunately, today, after much abuse, this phrase has been hollowed of its most positive meaning. The Algerian regime has endlessly been mining the Spirit of November to display it as a badge of the legitimacy it has been unable to earn through elections or the consent of its people. Politicians of all stripes have been invoking its magic power to close any debate or to justify any position. This has turned the Spirit of November into one of those vacuous expressions everyone feels obligated to use on solemn occasions without attaching too much meaning to it. Yet, it is a this precise moment, when the country seems to be paralyzed and stuck in neutral, unable to shift gears to face the future like most other countries in the region, that Algeria could use a serious dose of that spirit. Much has changed over the past fifty-seven years and today’s conditions are different, but the need for that sense of determination to face challenges remains the same. If the youth of 1954 could do it, the youth of 2011 can certainly do it too. All that is needed is a little spark.