Below is a guest post by the terrific Algerian-American writer and radio journalist Assia Boundaoui (@assuss) on President Obama’s speech written special to TMND. Boundaoui has covered protests in Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere from the front lines. The views expressed below are her own.
“If a revolutionary falls in a forest in North Africa, and no American was there to see it…”
By: Assia Boundaoui
Listening to President Obama’s speech on the Middle East and North Africa, a geographically-illiterate observer might come to conclude that North Africa is made up of only three countries: Egypt in the West, Libya in the East, and Tunisia in the middle. The other countries that actually make up the Western-half of North Africa – Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and the Western Sahara– went entirely unmentioned in the President’s speech.
As President Obama pontificated on providing economic support and promoting democracy in North Africa, he repeatedly invoked the Tunisia-Egypt duo, but conspicuously left out Libya, not to mention the Western-half of North Africa.
“America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy — starting with Tunisia and Egypt.”
Meanwhile serious uprisings, largely ignored by the American press, have taken place (and continue to take place) in the ignored Western-half of North Africa. In the wake of the famed Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the student protest movement was building momentum in Algeria, the April 25 youth protests shook Mauritania, and the February protests in Morocco helped bring about a new constitution. There is no doubt that uprisings continue to foment in the rest of North Africa, but meanwhile both the US administration and the mainstream American press don’t seem to take much notice.
Is it that the American media has no interest in the Western, francophone half of North Africa, or is it simply that U.S. political and economic interests don’t stretch that far West?
The question isn’t an easy one to answer, but one thing is clear: whether or not Presidential rhetoric or American press cameras are directed at the Western half of North Africa – the demands of the people there remain legitimate, and the people will continue to revolt until they see those demands met.
The fact is, the people of the Middle East and North Africa are not taking their cues from the American administration – most didn’t even listen to the President’s speech. Even in the two countries President Obama referenced the most, (Tunisia ten times and Egypt thirteen times), most Egyptians and Tunisians on the so-called “Arab Street” don’t seem to have even heard the speech.
Twitter and Facebook were awash this morning with Western journalists, based in North Africa, lamenting the lack of reactions to Obama’s speech from locals.
NicRobertsonCNN Nic Robertson
Out and about in Djerba: cafes busy but hard to find Tunisians who watched Obama speech; implies little of value in it for them
kristenchick Kristen Chick
More than just changing the power structure of the regimes in the Arab world, the revolutions and uprisings that have sweet the region have undoubtedly reconfigured the Arab Street’s complicated relationship with the U.S.
President Obama’s speech on the Middle East did little more than try to re-affirm the old American hegemony in the Middle East. It also begged the question: If a revolutionary falls in a North African forest, and no American is around to see it, does it matter?
The “Arab Spring” has reaffirmed that the answer is a resounding yes.