Tag Archives: Youth

Rev 2.0: A revolution of the minds

Let’s get straight to the point: What Algeria needs the most is a revolution in the minds of Algerians! What? Another one? Haven’t we heard that word enough this past year? Haven’t we already gone through that in the land of the 1.5 million martyrs?

In an amusing scene of Akli Tadjer’s “Les A.N.I. du Tassili” Omar, the hero of the story, is explaining to an older Algerian immigrant the symbolism of Maqam Eshahid (The Martyrs Memorial), the monument they can see towering over the city of Algiers from the deck of their ship as they leave for France. The three palms, explains Omar, represent the three revolutions: The industrial revolution, the agricultural revolution, and the cultural revolution.  The old man listens patiently then bursts with a complaint: What happened to Our revolution? The real one, the one we fought for?

Algerian public discourse is of course saturated with tired and tiring references to revolution, so why suggest such a “stale” idea as a way forward for this DZBlogday 2012  when the theme is to “act for Algeria”? Didn’t the hundreds of riots and protests of 2011 demonstrate that  Algerians, betraying their revolutionary heritage, were taking a pragmatic/materialistic approach, demanding jobs, housing, and pay raises while Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans were demanding the heads of their leaders?

True, but the revolution suggested here is not about violence, chaos or destruction. Whether we aim for political action to bring about regime change,  or whether we prefer to improve living conditions through innovations, we need first a radical break from the many mental blocks that stand in the way of successful initiatives.  We especially need to realize that whatever change we hope for has to become OUR business. That change can only come through US. We need to stop waiting for someone else to do things for us. No “providential” politician, no zaim  will come to save the day. No motherly government will come to solve every little problem we face. No single group, however organized and dedicated it may be can alone improve things. Not the politicians, the bureaucrats, the youth, the elders, the intellectuals, the students, the workers, the peasants, the men, the women or the imams. Everyone needs to get involved. Trivial or highly utopian you will say. Probably. But also fundamental. Transcending our doubts or  fears and helping others do the same should be our first act. Overcoming the poisonous and destructive “It will not work, don’t bother trying” is the first step in this Rev 2.0. To borrow a cliche, history is not destiny.

But it will take more than goodwill. Who is going to lead that effort? Why should THEY be trusted? After all, if we are in such a predicament it is in part because following a successful revolution 1.0 we put our faith in our leaders and hoped for the best.  See where that got us. Let’s not make the same mistake twice. Centralized planning and mainframe computers are a thing of the past for a reason. Distributed computing, decentralized administrations are vastly superior. The network is today’s organizational paradigm.  The same should be the case for this Rev2.0. No central vanguard revolutionary party to lead the charge. Instead, committed individuals acting in groups on the issues that matter the most to them. And a network to connect these groups.  We can’t all be doing the same thing or be interested in the same things, but the synergy from all those efforts could be the key to unlocking the untapped human potential in Algeria. Luckily this is already underway. Numerous groups in and out of the country have organized themselves along those lines and are busy changing things. There is more to do so and everyone should consider joining or creating a group/association/organization.  Becoming involved is the most important action a single person can take. While working, groups should also make a conscious effort to contribute to the building of this Rev2.0 network. Supporting and collaborating with other organizations, sharing, advertizing , publicizing, celebrating  the work of others is what we need to build a dense and robust network.  We have wonderful tools to do this today. We should take advantage of them.

We just need that first act: To break those mental shackles.

This post was written as a contribution to DZBlogday 2012. If you find it interesting and worth your vote, consider voting for it at Bloginy.com

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TEDxAlger, a subversive act?

Algiers, revolutionary Algiers, capital of the third-world revolutions in the sixties and the seventies, was a sure bet as the next stop in the unfolding drama of the Arab spring. The stage was set, the actors identified, and the script rehearsed in Tunis and Cairo. Anxious observers scrutinized every bit of news coming out of Alger-la-Blanche trying to anticipate events, ready to connect the dots with the rest of the grand narrative that was being constructed to explain the political awakening of the region. But nothing happened. Sure, there were calls for marches and public demonstrations, online declarations, op-ed pieces and a heavy police presence in the streets of Algiers. But nothing that could match the mesmerizing spectacle of the massive gatherings in Tunis or Tahrir square.  And the world’s attention was quickly redirected to Bahrein, Yemen, and finally Libya and Syria where things did happen.

Those still paying attention to Algeria were left with the task of explaining why nothing happened. The exercise is still in progress and more will be said about that in future posts here, but an emerging consensus argument runs something like this: Algeria has already gone through this phase back in October 1988, when massive riots left over 500 dead, led to an opening of the political landscape and the emergence of an independent press. This was followed by the cancelation of the 1992 legislative elections, won in the first round by the Islamists, by the military and ten years of a bloody civil war during which an estimated 200,00 people died. Traumatized by these events, Algerians were not too keen for a repeat performance. They have lost trust in the political process, and are today more interested in social and economical reforms to improve their constantly deteriorating situation.  This explains why communal guards and students succeeded where political organizations failed. They were able to organize public demonstrations because they  focused on meaningful and concrete social demands, not on political demands such as bringing down the system.

The validity of this argument will undoubtedly be tested in the coming weeks as the reforms announced by president Bouteflika in his April 15 speech are implemented.

In this context it was interesting to follow what may seem like a totally unrelated event: The TEDxAlger conference. Organized on April 09 by the ETIC club , run by students of Algeria’s top school in computer science (Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Informatique) , this first independent TED event  in Algeria focused on the spirit of entrepreneurship. A number of reactions by those who attended the event can be found here, here, here,  and here. Videos of the talks can be viewed here. A comprehensive collection of links about the event can be found here.

To organize such an event, focused on business and entrepreneurship, when the whole region is swept by a revolutionary mood focused on freedom and  regime change could be interpreted as a lack of consciousness, a form of indifference or even as reactionary. Businessmen and entrepreneurs cannot possible compete as role models when compared with those who are heroically bringing down autocratic regimes. Yet, the significance of this conference can be found elsewhere, beyond its theme and content. What should draw our attention is the fact that this was a large scale international event organized entirely by students in a country notorious for the extent of governmental control on all public activities. One of the most powerful ideas underlying the Arab spring is the desire of the youth to have a say in the conduct of the affairs of their societies and countries. No longer satisfied with the status quo, they are yearning for freedom. The freedom to dream, to build, to act and to fail. They want to be  in charge of their destiny. And that is exactly what the members of ETIC have done. They did not wait to be told what to do. They had an idea, they organized themselves, worked hard,  overcame all local obstacles and accomplished something significant. How much impact this particular event will have in the future is hard to gauge, and this may not qualify as a revolutionary act as usually understood, but, keeping in mind the context discussed above, this could serve as an example of the kind of actions Algerian youth could undertake to progressively build their own civil society. Rather than directly and violently confronting the regime, it might prove to be smarter and more productive to simply make it obsolete.  In that sense TEDxAlger could be a truly subversive act.

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