The pith and humor of Algerian protest signs will surely be an inspiration for literature to come:
By Nadia Ghanem
Since the official announcement on February 10 of this year that Algeria’s 82-year-old current president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was set to run for a fifth term on April 18, 2019, peaceful marches have been taking place across Algeria. Bouteflika, who suffered a stroke in 2013 that left him paralyzed, has not been able to give a public speech in four and a half years, and, for the past 13 days (as I write), the president has been hospitalised in Geneva.
Protests began across the country on Friday, February 22, denouncing this situation. Peaceful demonstrators took to the streets, bearing placards that have repeatedly carried one clear message: “No to a 5th Term” (لا للعهدة الخامسة) with simultaneous demands that Bouteflika, his “government,” and his acolytes get lost (ارحلوا).
March 8 happened to be International Women’s Day, but it was also another Friday of protests against Bouteflika’s regime across Algeria. The eighth was the largest protest so far, with millions of protesters recorded in demonstrations nationwide, and a large turnout of families hand-in-hand with their children.
In every city, marches were peaceful and the mood euphoric. Proof of protestors’ sense of humour is in the abundance of jokes and puns on banners carried high by their authors during protests ever since the February 22 demonstrations.
Hundreds of tongue-in-cheek messages were shared on social media on March 8. To record this historic day in Algerian politics and in the renewal of Algeria’s social fabric, I have gathered a number of March 8 banners shared on Twitter and Facebook.
Get lost, get it?
“Maybe they’ll get it in Chinese: no to the fifth term” below refers to the government’s systematic refusal to acknowledge the protests, as well as their implications for Bouteflika’s regime and the 2019 elections. The pretence was most noticeable when the Algerian authorities released two open letters published in Bouteflika’s name, the second of which promises he will not rerun for a 6th term if he’s elected for this 5th (!). One protester wrote “no to the fifth term” in reversed lettering with the note: “Maybe they’ll get it in reverse”.
As one would expect from a community of polyglots, messages have come in many languages, including Chinese. Banners in Tamazight written in the Tifinagh script were seen in previous demonstrations (see here for an example from 1 March), but I have not picked up on any in my own network. The lack of them in this post is not representative of the reality on the ground on that day, but is instead due to my lack of access.
The frame, the sausage, and the oil
Finding individuals or a group photographed within a frame is becoming a celebratory trend since February 22. The joke refers to Bouteflika’s framed portrait, used by his supporters as proof he actively participates to his presidential campaign and carries his presidential duties in person from his frame. Mad but true, see here, and they didn’t meant it as a joke.
References to scandals
“The cashir trap.” A salami-type sausage called cashir in Algeria was seen on a demonstrator’s bike, set on a mouse-trap like a cheese. As Romayssa, a friend and young data addict was reminding me, slices and whole cashir sausages are used in jokes in reference to the cashir sandwiches served by the authorities during the official and ‘fun’ events to which they treat their supporters such as concerts and elections. An incongruous choice of state menus. One such event was organised for supporters of Bouteflika’s 4th term in 2014. This sausage is used in many jokes as a “brown-nose” catcher.
I myself always associate cashir sausages with the food scandal of 2015, when cashir meat was found expired and unsafe for consumption only after many people had died of food poisoning, including children. Officials who benefit from unregulated food markets did not seek to implement change. Whatever brings in easy money is good game.
Another scandal is the 701 kilos of cocaine found in 2018 in a cargo marked ‘halal meat’ in the port of Wahran. Authorities then assured the public that they were not trafficking it but seizing it. “Where’s my share of the cocaine” below could be a straightforward question or a reference to the 2018 scandal. Then again, it could refer to 2019, when 300 kilos of cocaine were found in backpacks by Marine Commandos surveilling the coast of Skikda.
Where is Bouteflika?
“I am looking for Bouteflika” a diver says. Divers keep popping up in demonstrations. A group of them set up a ‘no to the 5th term‘ banner underwater in early March (see here for the video). People have been having a lot of fun ‘looking for Bouteflika’ in demonstration messages. Dora the explorerhas been looking for Bouteflika since 1 March from the city of Tamanrasset. If you’re Swiss, help her.
People power versus foreign powers
Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia gave a speech on February 28 before the National Assembly, warning that protesters should remember what happened in Syria, a threat barely concealed in its reference to the chaos that has ensued for the people who ask for a regime fall.
This demonstrator’s “Chaos is you” is one of the many gentle and intelligent replies to his comments.
The only foreign power Algerians are interested in hearing from at the moment is Switzerland, given that Bouteflika has been hospitalized there since late February. In fact, the president is a regular patient in Swiss hospitals. A number of March 8 messages were addressed to non-Swiss governments though, to demand they stop interfering in Algeria’s affairs.
I had personally not seen this sort of “stay out” messages during previous protests. They should not to be dismissed as a “family affair” type of development, but rather are born from the intimate knowledge of what European and American interference can cost, and what it has cost elsewhere, and from an acute feeling that pressure is mounting. March 8 was the third sequential Friday of national demonstrations, in three weeks where doctors, university students, secondary school pupils, lawyers, and journalists have demonstrated across the country, one after the other.
Songs and chants
While the written word has caught my attention, songs and chants have been momentous in binding protesters. Many were created and channelled by football fans, and those interested in this phenomenon should follow Maher Mezahi’s reports, and read Aida Alami’s article on The Soccer Politics of Morocco. Lameen Souag has also given a translation and analysis of a USMA football club song in Some Algerian Protest Songs.
Note: Because photos were shared on social media, it is often not possible to know the original photographer, or to find the city from which it was posted, and so I have inserted the link to the posts from which I have lifted photographs to reference my sources. My translations of the jokes given here can no doubt all be improved. You should have a go!
“Connected people, disconnected system”.
“Message to the president of Korea: take Ouyahia and in his place give us an original charger.” Ouyahia is Algeria’s Prime Minister, and the original or genuine chargers of phones and laptops are notoriously difficult and expensive to find in Algeria.
“iPhone 1,2, ….. came out AND YOU’RE STILL NOT GONE!”
“We’d like an HD president, a 4K will do”
“System 5 needs a reboot, do you want to reformat the device? OUI / YES / OK”
“Product bar code: the regime
Fabrication date: 05/07/1962
Expiry date: 22/02/2019”
“[System] uninstalling…”. Also: “They have millions, we are millions”.
The president and the clan
“The people ask for a residential seat made by Tefal so that the next president won’t stick”
“8 March [INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY] – have a good one Ouyahia”. It can also be read “have a good one Said (and) Ouyahia”. Said is Bouteflika’s brother and the man, many believe, who runs the show.
“In construction (deconstructing the FLN)”. Not in the philosophical way.
People whose car area code ends in 05 (the Batna region) have crossed it out to make it look like the ‘no to the 5th term’ sign that has gone viral since February (a crossed-out 5).
“The Algerian People’s Plan: PLAN A: YOU GET LOST, PLAN B: YOU GET LOST, PLAN C: YOU GET LOST” in reference to the regime’s plan A for Abdelaziz (Bouteflika), and plan B for Bouteflika.
Disguised Bouteflika: “I DON’T WANT A FIFTH TERM CANDIDACY”
“Gaid is anything except ‘Salah'” makes reference to General Ahmed Gaid Salah, whose last name (Salah) means righteous, veracious, good, also valid. The first word ‘Al Gaid’ is also how the word Al-Qaid is pronounced in Algeria (the letter Qaf is often pronounced Ga), which makes the message mean ‘the leader’, ie Bouteflika, is no good.
“No to the 5th term and no to the regime’s gang”
“Dentists recommend a change in prosthesis”
“I am worried about the country and she tells me… come and ask for my hand”
“They have millions, we are millions. We are the 99%, we will no longer tolerate greed and corruption”
“Get out, let us mop the country”
“We are not in danger… we are the danger… peacefully”. In reference to Breaking Bad.
“This Camembert cheese stinks less than you do”
“Hash became expensive, so now we’re awake”
Banners inspired by the famous Tunisian slogan ‘The people want the fall of the regime‘ (الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام)
“The people want a taste of life”
“The people want the implementation of the constitution”
Dr. Nadia Ghanem is ArabLit’s Algeria Editor. Based between Algeria and the UK, she blogs at tellemchaho.blogspot.co.uk about living in Algeria, and Algerian literature.