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February 28, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 576

Noxious Narratives: Algerian Anti-Moroccan Propaganda

February 28, 2024 | By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*
North Africa | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 576

Man is, by nature, a story-telling animal.  We live and die by narratives, the stories we tell about the world and ourselves. Religion, love, family, the nation – all are sustained and nurtured by these narratives. And stories can be beautiful or terrible, or both.

While the West had and still has its narratives, Western Man seems supremely confused these days about who or what he is (or even if he is really a he), about his past or his future. The "rules-based international order" does not sound very stirring. Elsewhere, states are clearer and grander in their imagery. Egypt under President Al-Sisi has sought to highlight the country's ancient pre-Islamic history as a unifying force. Iranian dissidents against the Mullah regime hold up Cyrus the Great as a great model. In other states, the narrative can be toxic. Certainly, Jihadist and Islamist narratives are often deadly. Both Russia and China dream of empire as does Erdoğan's Turkey. Azerbaijan's dictatorship indoctrinates its people on hatred of Armenians while Iran is the world leader in promoting antisemitism.

In North Africa, both Morocco and Algeria are states with regional ambitions and with longstanding enmity. That enmity between the two neighbors goes back decades.[1] While Morocco leans toward the West, Algeria is an ally of Russia and Iran. This rivalry extends to every field of competition between the two states.

This article examines how Algeria projects its worldview, particularly against Morocco and in Arabic, on social media. Although the Algerian Constitution guarantees press freedom, such freedoms have been increasingly curtailed inside Algeria after pro-democracy protests wracked the country. The last independent news outlet inside the country was shut down in December 2022.[2] And since then the authorities have further tightened restrictions on the media.[3]

But while there may be many taboo subjects in Algeria, trolling and trash-talking about Morocco while highlighting dreams of regional glory and military prowess is definitely allowed and encouraged.

In addition to the major regime or pro-regime media outlets, a fascinating development in the world of Algerian propaganda is the rise of seemingly amateur (or amateurish) YouTube channels, social media influencers, promoting along parallel lines of effort, the broad outlines of Algerian foreign policy – anti-Moroccan especially, but also anti-Israel and anti-French.

A typical example is the banner that graces the beginning of this article, featuring both the images of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and former Algerian strongman Houari Boumédiène. The image belongs to the Algerian ibendawla ("Son of the Algerian State") "political and sports news" YouTube channel. Ibendawla has 955,000 subscribers and more than 1,200 videos and has been in operation since January 2021.[4] The mixture of politics and sports is a common one among these propaganda channels. Some of these channels have a bit of politics mixed in with a lot of sports, Ibendawla goes the other way with a lot of politics mixed in with just a bit of sports.

Even after the earthquake that struck Morocco, the channel focused on stories that portrayed the Moroccan government in a negative light, making wild claims about corruption from the Moroccan authorities, including the military.[5] The informal, conversational tone is vulgar, mocking, with running commentary dripping with sarcasm. Some recent videos were titled "Morocco Out Of Service," "Leader Expels Zionists [bringing emergency aid] from Morocco," while another mocked the quality of French aid sent to Morocco.[6] According to YouTube, the 1,200 videos on the channel have more than 280 million views.

"Algeria Here," a YouTube channel by MUSTAFA08 is smaller (121,000 subscribers and 153 videos) and overwhelmingly focuses on actual sports videos. But even here amidst all the football coverage, you have videos praising Algeria's acquisition of Russian-made SU-35 and SU-57 fighter jets.[7]

A larger Algerian propaganda channel on YouTube is Algeria Tech (@AlgeriaTECHDZ) with 320,000 subscribers and almost 900 videos since November 2013.[8] Strongly nationalistic, pro-Russian and anti-Israel, the channel boasts of the "failure" of the United States to impose Russia-focused sanctions on Algeria, despite pressure from Israel and Morocco, due to the "weight" and strength of the Algerian state.[9] In all of these channels, the serious jostles with the jocular and juvenile, with the clear sense that they are aimed at a mostly younger and male demographic.

Sometimes the channels may look and act more like professional news outlets but still state their goal openly, it is "the defense of Algeria," as @elwaqui3_news ("Reality News") proudly proclaims on YouTube to its 260,000 subscribers. This news channel, in existence since December 2020, has over 2,800 videos and almost 156 million views.[10] Popular playlists are about the Algerian Army, Algerian diplomacy, "Algeria and France," and "Algeria and the Arab League." Recent videos attacked the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and France in addition to Morocco. Also mocked was Joe Biden, who Algeria's President reportedly refused to meet at the UN General Assembly.[11] The channel also ridiculed the loss of an American F-35 fighter over South Carolina as an embarrassment for Morocco "which was sold this plane by Biden to compete with Algeria's Russian Sukhoi-35."[12]

While "Reality News" acts as a traditional, legacy news outlet, a more populist, cruder, and youthful approach seems to be even more appealing. MEDIA dz (@mediadzoff) on YouTube has over 1.13 million subscribers and over 3,300 videos since September 2017. Since that time, its videos have more than 243 million views. The content on MEDIA dz is similar to that of the others – Algerian nationalism, glorification of the military and the ruler, criticism of the unfriendly actions of dubious countries (these include France, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the UAE), and unremitting attacks on Morocco. As with other channels, Morocco is often not referred to by its proper Arabic name Al-Maghreb (which can also mean North Africa as a region) but is referred to as Al-Maroc or as the English Morocco but written in Arabic letters.[13] MEDIA dz is "news" for the very online, TikTok generation (and MEDIA dz, not surprisingly, seems to have a TikTok channel)[14] with a short attention span and a voracious appetite for sensationalistic content.

While the content of these channels deals with serious issues, the style and graphics are decidedly not, bold colors and unflattering photos (of the "villains" in the narrative) predominate, giving them an almost comic book, graphic novel quality. The Moroccan King is almost always portrayed in as negative and mocking a way as possible.

 

While these Algerian channels obsess about Morocco and Algeria's other supposed adversaries, it is clear that the main audience for this content is likely not Moroccans at all but the Algerian people themselves, especially its youthful population. Thirty percent of the country's population is under 25, with relatively high levels of youth unemployment and underemployment. The Algerian energy windfall as a result of the 2022 Ukraine War has not only enabled it to buy more Russian weapons but to even subsidize unemployed workers, but the unemployed still have a lot of time on their hands.[15]

These outlets provide a crucial service to the Algerian state – preparing the masses for war or beguiling them to fabricated political fantasies with a steady diet of relatively inexpensive propaganda aimed at indoctrinating one's own population, distracting them with foreign threats, with a heady, constant mixture of Pavlovian outrage and hysteria.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI

 

[1] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 520, Always Approaching, Never Arriving: 'War' Between Algeria And Morocco, September 7, 2023.

[2] Timep.org/2023/04/10/algeria-and-the-state-of-freedom-of-expression, April 10, 2023.

[3] Reuters.com/world/africa/algerian-parliament-approves-new-law-that-tightens-control-over-media-2023-04-13, April 13, 2023.

[4] Youtube.com/@ibendawla/about, accessed February 28, 2024.

[5] Youtube.com/watch?v=DHqqoRPZI5o, September 13, 2023.

[6] Youtube.com/watch?v=F_4Yw450FEQ, September 17, 2023.

[7] Youtube.com/watch?v=Mh6cIA6k380&t=64s, July 29, 2022.

[8] Youtube.com/@AlgeriaTECHDZ/about, accessed February 28, 2024.

[9] Youtube.com/watch?v=d5gJIwpni6A

[10] Youtube.com/@elwaqui3_news/about, accessed February 28, 2024.

[11] Youtube.com/watch?v=IxLTA9ZuLO8, September 16, 2023.

[12] Youtube.com/watch?v=cpajOI6aq4I, September 19, 2023.

[13] Youtube.com/watch?v=DMZhn1-NIjo

[14] Tiktok.com/@tahia.algeria?lang=en

[15] Bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-28/algeria-one-of-africa-s-first-to-pay-jobless-as-oil-income-soars#xj4y7vzkg, March 28, 2022.

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