Revolt on the horizon? How young people really feel about digital technology. It is already happening but on the other side of the Mediterranean. The 2011 raucous events liberally labelled ‘Arab Spring’ surfing on the then available Social Media did take their respective establishments by surprise in Tunisia and Egypt. Lately, it is Algeria’s as well as Sudan’s that no doubt are undergoing the same treatment. The almost full and deep spread of Digital Technology is definitely for something in the simultaneous and coordinated gatherings, for instance in every single town and village of all and far-flung 48 provinces of Algeria. Moreover, the impact of social networks has given a specific decantation process via all social media seems to help in delineating issues and decide ways to pursue each and to which end. Inevitable progress and/or technological advances in the digital hardware in hand is making it hard to predict where all this is leading.
As digital technologies facilitate the growth of both new and incumbent organisations, we have started to see the darker sides of the digital economy unravel. In recent years, many unethical business practices have been exposed, including the capture and use of consumers’ data, anticompetitive activities and covert social experiments.
But what do young people who grew up with the internet think about this development? Our research with 400 digital natives – 19- to 24-year-olds – shows that this generation, dubbed “GenTech”, may be the one to turn the digital revolution on its head. Our findings point to a frustration and disillusionment with the way organisations have accumulated real-time information about consumers without their knowledge and often without their explicit consent.
Many from GenTech now understand that their online lives are of commercial value to an array of organisations that use this insight for the targeting and personalisation of products, services and experiences.
This era of accumulation and commercialisation of user data through real-time monitoring has been coined “surveillance capitalism” and signifies a new economic system.
A central pillar of the modern digital economy is our interaction with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms. We found that 47% of GenTech do not want AI technology to monitor their lifestyle, purchases and financial situation in order to recommend them particular things to buy.
In fact, only 29% see this as a positive intervention. Instead, they wish to maintain a sense of autonomy in their decision making and have the opportunity to freely explore new products, services and experiences.
As individuals living in the digital age, we constantly negotiate with technology to let go of or retain control. This pendulum-like effect reflects the ongoing battle between the human and technology.
My life, my data?
Our research also reveals that 54% of GenTech are very concerned about the access organisations have to their data, while only 19% were not worried. Despite the EU General Data Protection Regulation being introduced in May 2018, this is still a major concern – grounded in a belief that too much of their data is in the possession of a small group of global companies, including Google, Amazon and Facebook. Some 70% felt this way.
In recent weeks, both Facebook and Google have vowed to make privacy a top priority in the way they interact with users. Both companies have faced public outcry for their lack of openness and transparency when it comes to how they collect and store user data. It isn’t long ago that a hidden microphone was found in one of Google’s home alarm products.
Google now plans to offer auto-deletion of users’ location history data, browsing and app activity as well as extend its “incognito mode” to Google Maps and search. This will enable users to turn off tracking.
At Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is keen to reposition the platform as a “privacy focused communications platform”, built on principles such as private interactions, encryption, safety, interoperability (communications across Facebook-owned apps and platforms) and secure data storage. This will be a tough turn around for the company that is fundamentally dependent on turning user data into opportunities for highly individualised advertising.
Privacy and transparency are critically important themes for organisations today – both for those that have “grown up” online as well as the incumbents. While GenTech want organisations to be more transparent and responsible, 64% also believe that they cannot do much to keep their data private. Being tracked and monitored online by organisations is seen as part and parcel of being a digital consumer.
Despite these views, there is a growing revolt simmering under the surface. GenTech want to take ownership of their own data. They see this as a valuable commodity, which they should be given the opportunity to trade with organisations. Some 50% would willingly share their data with companies if they got something in return, for example, a financial incentive.
Rewiring the power shift
GenTech are looking to enter into a transactional relationship with organisations. This reflects a significant change in attitudes from perceiving the free access to digital platforms as the “product” in itself (in exchange for user data), to now wishing to use that data to trade for explicit benefits.
This has created an opportunity for companies that seek to empower consumers and give them back control of their data. Several companies now offer consumers the opportunity to sell the data they are comfortable sharing or take part in research which they get paid for. More and more companies are joining this space, including People.io, Killi and Ocean Protocol.
Sir Tim Berners Lee, the creator of the world wide web, has also been working on a way to shift the power from organisations and institutions and back to citizens and consumers. The platform, Solid, offers users the opportunity to be in charge of where they store their data and who can access it. It is a form of re-decentralisation.
The Solid POD (Personal Online Data storage) is a secure place on a hosted server or the individual’s own server. Users can grant apps access to their POD as a person’s data is stored centrally and not by an app developer or on an organisation’s server. We see this as potentially being a way to let people take back control from technology and other companies.
GenTech have woken up to a reality where a life lived “plugged in” has significant consequences for their individual privacy, and are starting to push back, questioning those organisations that have shown limited concern and continue to exercise exploitative practices.
It’s no wonder that we see these signs of revolt. GenTech is the generation with the most to lose. They face a life ahead intertwined with digital technology as part of their personal and private lives. With continued pressure on organisations to become more transparent, the time is now for young people to make their move.
The MENA region countries, notably the republics amongst them, have undergone upheaval of vital importance lately. The latest but not least would be the military dominating civilian life and society in Egypt. This country being at the forefront of all the republics in all domain of governance could be an indicator of the trend for the other governments. Algeria and Sudan come literally on the brink of following, such as their own military dominating the country’s civilian and societal life.
Amgad Hamdiin his 20 May 2019 article elaborates thus on the Egyptian Institute for Studies.
It is no longer a secret that the military dominates civilian life and society as a whole in Egypt. The present cabinet with all its civil ministries is no longer the only civilian front for the military rule. In fact, the military has tightened its grip on all aspects of civil life through employing military officers, both retired or in office.
On 22 December 2018, Hala Zayed, the current Minister of Health, announced that directors of 48 model hospitals (29 of which belong to the Ministry of Health and 19 to the Ministry of Higher Education) will be chosen from among the military. This decision violates all legal and constitutional values of ensuring that all citizens have equal opportunities when applying for a job based on objective evaluation criteria, not due to belonging to any State body or party, whether civilian or military. This move comes after founding the Faculty of Military Medicine, a critical development in the course of military dominance over the civilian sphere, and within the framework of seeking to tighten control over service sectors that are directly related to citizens, such as the health sector.
Militarization of leading positions in the Ministry of Health
As the Egyptian government that came after the military coup sought to exclude all components of the civil society, the phenomenon of controlling the vital sectors in the Ministry of Health, including the security, finance and administrative sectors, in addition to dozens of jobs in the middle administration at the level of director-general, which is difficult to monitor because of lack of transparency in the announcement of mechanisms of military personnel appointment in those positions.
The prevalence of the presence of the military in various sectors of the Ministry of Health contributed to increasing anger among employees, in light of the huge salaries that those military commanders receive added to the huge salaries they receive from the army starting from 15 thousand pounds to officers with the rank of Colonel and up to 25 thousand pounds for officers with the rank of Maj. General, which increases the psychological burden on civil servants in those sectors, whose salary may not exceed 1500 pounds per month.
A- The military in the Ministry of Health
Among the most important military figures that were appointed in leading positions at the Ministry of Health after the July 2013 coup:
1- Major General Mohamed Fathallah, an anesthesiologist in the Armed Forces, was appointed to the position of spokesman for the Ministry of Health, from 29 July 2013 to 25 November 2013, and was then promoted to the Head of the Health Minister’s Office.
Fathallah only made one statement on the number of deaths during the dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins as well as subsequent events all over the country, during his tenure as an official spokesman of the Ministry of Health. On 15 August 2013, one day after the massacre, the Egyptian Ministry of Health officially announced that the incidents left 578 dead and 4201 injured all over the country, including 288 deaths in Rabaa only.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Coup Alliance, known as the National Alliance Supporting Legitimacy, announced that the number of victims after the dispersal of anti-coup sit-ins reached 2,600 in Rabaa Adawiya alone; and some Brotherhood leaders, such as Mohamed El-Beltagy and Essam El-Erian, said 3000 protesters were killed by the army and security forces on 14 August, while the number jumped to 4000 or 5000, including those viewed as “coup victims” in general. However, the Human Rights Watch said the death toll reached one thousand.
Commenting on this:
– The Ministry of Health was supposed to issue several consecutive statements on the situation following the initial statement. However, only three statements were issued between 14 and 17 August.
– The total number of victims announced by Major General Mohammad Fathallah, the official spokesman of the Ministry of Health, (578 people), after only one day of the Rabaa sit-in dispersal cannot be accurate due to the state of liquidity and severe disintegration of the State institutions at the time.
– No subsequent data were issued to indicate the status of the injured and the hospitals to which they were transferred, and whether there were subsequent deaths among the injured.
– The Ministry of Health did not play its role in preserving the rights of the dead and injured through issuance of official death certificates showing the real causes of death or injury, which could support the legal position of the families of those affected in the course of criminal prosecution of army and police forces involved in killing demonstrators.
– So far, the Ministry of Health has not released any new data or statistics regarding the massacre of dispersal of Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins, especially causes of death.
– The Ministry of Health did not respond to the complaints raised by the Egyptian or international press about discrepancies in statements about the numbers of victims and remained silent.
The appointment of a military doctor in this position as spokesman of the Ministry of Health, at this specific stage, begs a question about the accuracy and transparency of information regarding the incident, where the victims were civilians and the convicts were army and police forces, amid silence of the official spokesman of the ministry.
2- The position of assistant to the Minister of Health for Financial and Administrative Affairs was mostly occupied by the military except for the period from January to October 2015, where the current Minister of Finance, Mohamed Maeit, held the post: Major General Ahmed Farag took over from 2006 until the January Revolution (2011), then Major General Ashraf Khairi, and after that Dr. Maeit as we mentioned earlier, and finally Major General Sayed Al Shahid, who has been in this position until today.
3- The Central Department of Administrative Affairs: Dr. Ahmed Emad Eddin, former Minister of Health in March 2017 appointed Major General Ahmed Baligh Al Hadidi as Head of the Health Ministry’s Central Department of Administrative Affairs. The Administrative Affairs Sector is responsible for all types of maintenance within the ministry office including plumbing, carpentry, electricity, as well as sending and receiving the office correspondence.
4- General Security Department: Dr. Ahmed Emad Eddin, the former Minister of Health, appointed Major General Ahmed Zaghloul as Assistant to the Minister of Health for Political Communication and Security Affairs, replacing Major General Ahmad Said, former Director of the Ministry of Health’s Security Department. Also, the former minister of health appointed Major General Hisham Abdel Raouf as assistant to the minister for basic care.
As we have seen, the military control all sectors of the Ministry of Health as well as the overall policy-making within the Ministry and the Ministry’s resources, logistics, personnel files, communication systems, facilities and services, in addition to the operating system and internal regulations.
B- Management of model hospitals
The decision of Hala Zayed, the current Minister of Health, to appoint the directors of the model hospitals (48) from among those who have a military background is the most dangerous decision in the context of development of the course of military dominance on the health sector in Egypt, for the following reasons:
– The decision is the first of its kind that restricts applying for a civil position to the military.
– The decision allows the military to systematically invade the Ministry of Health’s middle administration, as directors of hospitals, which enables them to control the joints of the health sector as a whole, not only the top administration and policy-making, but also extends to the executive.
– The decision represents a qualitative leap in the path of imposing military hegemony on society, through the appointment of soldiers in service or retired in civil service sites where there is direct interaction with citizens on a daily basis.
– The appointment of the military as directors of government-owned hospitals, this time not as military doctors, but as professional soldiers assigned to work in administrative not technical positions. Therefore, the decision represents a quantitative and qualitative transformation in this regard.
– The decision will increase the drop-out and emigration of doctors due to deprivation of the possibility of promotion and holding administrative positions in the ministry.
– This military move is an encroachment on the civil rights and social structure of the Egyptian working environment. It is also a negative indicator of the tendency towards a full militarization of society.
– The aim of such decision is to appease the military, who were fired from their positions in the armed forces, especially after the coup of 2013.
King is dead, long live the King’: Principle applicable in the MENA region. In effect, all countries of the area, be they republics or monarchies tend to abide by this principle. The consequences of such custom have had bearings throughout millennia. The recent advent of oil exports related revenues brought the limelight to shed a little light in the MENA sunny skies.
Libya’s battle for Tripoli alongside ongoing mass anti-government demonstrations that toppled autocratic leaders of Algeria and Sudan demonstrate that both popular Arab protests that in 2011 forced four presidents out of office and the counterrevolution it provoked are alive and kicking.
Protesters in Algeria and Sudan are determined to prevent a repeat of Egypt where a United Arab Emirates and Saudi-backed military officer rolled back the achievements of their revolt to install a brutal dictatorship or of Yemen, Libya and Syria that have suffered civil wars aggravated by interference of foreign powers.
In Libya, Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, the UAE-Saudi-Egyptian-supported warlord, hopes that his assault on the capital Tripoli, the seat of the country’s United Nations-recognized government, will either end the conflict militarily or at the very least significantly increase his leverage in peace talks.
In all three countries, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the two Gulf nations most determined to maintain the Middle East and North Africa’s autocratic structure at whatever cost, have sought to either bolster military resolve to remain a decisive political force or support the rise of forces that fit their agenda.
The aid package contributed to deepening divisions among the opposition that has vowed to continue street protests until full civilian rule has been achieved despite the ousting of president Omar al-Bashir, the resignation of senior military officers, including the intelligence chief, and the arrest of Mr. Al-Bashir’s brothers.
Mr. Al-Hussein returned to Khartoum this month from two years in exile in the kingdom, where he served as an African affairs advisor to the Saudi court, after having been unceremoniously sacked in 2017 on suspicion that he was a Saudi intelligence asset.
Moreover, the head of Sudan’s military council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan and his deputy, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a paramilitary commander known as Hemeti, developed close ties to the Gulf states in their former roles as commanders of the Sudan contingent fighting in Yemen in support of the Saudi-UAE alliance.
A commander of feared Arab militias accused of genocide in Darfur, General Dagalo is widely viewed as ambitious and power hungry. His Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are deployed across Khartoum.
Western officials privately describe General Dagalo as “potentially Sudan’s Sisi,” a reference to Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who came to power in 2013 in a UAE-Saudi-supported military coup.
Mr. Al-Sisi has introduced one of the most repressive systems in recent Egyptian history. Western diplomats said General Dagalo’s ambitions virtually guaranteed that the military would not fully surrender power in any negotiated transition.
The military’s role in deposing president Hosni Mubarak as a result of a popular revolt in 2011 and subsequently restoring the military’s grip on power coupled with concern about General Dagalo inspired one of the Sudanese protesters’ chants: “It’s either victory or Egypt.”
Saudi Arabia and the UAE together with Egypt and Bahrain have diplomatically and economically boycotted Qatar for the past 22 months in a bid to force the Gulf state to tow their geopolitical line.
For now, Mr. Haftar’s offensive has way laid a UN-sponsored peace conference that was expected to achieve an agreement that would have ensured that Islamists would continue to be part of the Libyan power structure.
Mr. Haftar, like his regional backers, accuses the Tripoli government of being dominated by Islamists, the bete noir of the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
On a visit to Saudi Arabia days before launching his attack on Tripoli, Mr. Haftar reportedly was promised millions of dollars in support in talks with Saudi King Salman, and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in defiance of a United Nations arms embargo.
The battle for Libya could prove to be Mr. Haftar’s most difficult military offensive. His Libyan National Army (LNA) already controls Libya’s second city of Benghazi and much of rest of the country where it met relatively little resistance.
The battle also serves as a warning to protesters in Sudan and Algeria whose demands for fundamental change risk upsetting the UAE, Saud Arabia and Egypt’s applecart.
With no swift victory in sight in the battle for Tripoli, Libya risks another round of protracted war that could be aggravated by the fact that it is as much a domestic fight as it is a multi-layered proxy war.
Unlike Sudan, Libya has passed the corner. Years of civil and proxy wars have devastated the country and laid the groundwork for further violence. Algeria and Sudan still have a chance of avoiding the fate of Libya, or for that matter Syria and Yemen.
As the battle in Tripoli unfolds, Libya looms large as a live example of what is at stake. Protesters are up against forces whose backers have proven that there is little they will shy away from to achieve their objectives. Libya is but the latest example.
The king’s fate is at stake in the fighting in streets of southern Tripoli. His fate hangs like a sword of Damocles in the balance in the streets of Algiers and Khartoum.
Dr James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.
Jordan Times Home published this Opinion of Shehab Al Makahleh that demonstrates here the negative effect of the region’s changing climate as more MENA wars over water, energy and food. The MENA region is comprised of the world’s most water-stressed countries.
The coming few years will not only witness people fighting over land, religion and economics, but also over climate change, and water, energy and food shortages. Though the war of ideologies will always be a superficial rationalisation for conflicts, the real justification of such wars is water, energy and food.
The world’s most volatile region is about to be involved in further chaos due to persistent climate change, as food shortages and water and energy scarcity increase the number of displaced people, ignite wars and provide opportunities for extremist groups. It is predicted that 7 to 10 million people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region would be forced to leave their homelands over the next decade because of water, energy and food shortages or because of conflicts that could break out as a result of conflicts on these resources.
The impact of climate change and water scarcity in the Middle East will aggravate. As a result, the region is heading towards the greatest natural disaster in the history of mankind, and the displacement of refugees and the continuing global conflict can mere results.
With just 2 per cent of the Middle East covered with water and 94 per cent vulnerable to climate change, the future of the region is at stake. The situation became even bleaker nowadays with wars erupting in many countries, as water has become increasingly a scarce resource.
The MENA is badly affected by climate change, and droughts and desertification are expected to lead to a decline in crop production, declining river water levels, drop in energy production and increased conflicts over water and food resources, leading to more crises and conflicts. In the past, it has been found that the failure of some MENA countries to meet the basic needs of citizens and address droughts, desertification and lack of energy supplies drove the masses to participate in political protests or the so-called “Arab Spring” demonstrations.
Between 2006 and 2011, more than 65 per cent of arable lands in Syria were adversely affected by drought, the worst in the country’s modern history. Agricultural products decreased and livestock farmers lost most of their source of living because they migrated to major cities. In Libya, the drought also caused widespread unrest. In Egypt, climate change has led to waves of drought, particularly in the delta and the Nile Valley. Many agricultural lands have been lost as a result of population growth and occupation of farmland. This had led food prices to rocket.
The changing climate has contributed to unrest in Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries. The problems are not over at all as warmer temperatures lead to water shortages. As the Middle East imports 70 per cent of grains, this proportion is increasing annually due to the rise in population, making governments and people more vulnerable to climate changes because the MENA is totally dependent on its food security for the sustainable development on agriculture.
Several governments, including the governments of Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, have begun to address climate change issues to ensure sustainability of natural resources. The outcome of climate change, chiefly migration, will aggravate these wars and conflicts further, fuelling intransigent bigoted movements worldwide. The more unstable climate policies are the more backsliding penchants and affinities in world politics to rise to the surface, prelude to more violent unsafe world.
In the 1960s, a number of conflicts have erupted because of war on water. The Atlantic Council, which has compiled a database on water-related conflicts around the world, has reported 92 water-related incidents in the Middle East. Most of these incidents were attributed to development factors, terrorism or incidents in which water was used as a military tool or target. Yet, conflicts over water are still less than conflicts over other natural resources such as oil, despite forecast that the next war in the Middle East will be a result of water shortage, rather than any other factor.
Although the MENA region does not contribute significantly to climate change compared with Western and eastern countries, such as China, the EU and the US, the Middle East will be hit badly by climate change issues as the World Bank stated: “The Middle East stands on the front lines of climate change.”
The world has already passed the point of no return. Even the agreed goals of the United Nations climate summit in 2015 are not addressed. The vast majority of the world’s countries continue to follow the path of energy-intensive development and emissions. On the other hand, three of the largest countries in terms of emissions produce carbon dioxide more than 100 other countries. Some areas in the Middle East may become unfit for human life as summer temperatures in some MENA countries would double the global average temperature.
Some studies reveal that temperature in the MENA is expected to reach 46ºC by 2050. In 2100, the incidence of severe heat-waves will increase more than usual, while extreme weather, fire storms, dust clouds and rapid evaporation will become the normal pattern. All of this will pave the way for future wars and conflicts over water, food and energy in the MENA.
The writer is a consultant, senior political and media adviser and the executive director of Geostrategic Media Centre-USA. He contributed this article to The Jordan TimesRate
‘Get them all out!’: Algeria three years on after Panama Papers – and to mark World Press Freedom Day, Lyas Hallas, Algerian journalist – a member of ICIJ elaborates on the current situation of Algeria.
To celebrate the third anniversary of the Panama Papers – and to mark World Press Freedom Day – we’re speaking with reporters from around the world about the investigation each week.
Like many of our partners, Lyas’ work is still having an impact. Most recently, authorities arrested some wealthy Algerians named in the Panama Papers and street protesters calling for the president’s resignation and an end to corruption waved banners that featured the businessmen’s faces.
What was the biggest impact in Algeria after the Panama Papers’ revelations?
There was an immediate debate about assets held by Algerians overseas. The reaction shook the leaders of our country who had planned their retirements abroad. The Panama Papers also hit hard the businessmen who consort with politicians and who enjoy tax and banking advantages at home and yet who hide their money offshore. The revelations politically weakened ministers who were at the height of their power and others who were on the cusp of bouncing back.
One example was the then Industry Minister Abdesselam Bouchouareb, who was tipped to be the next prime minister before that became awkward due to the global firestorm in the wake of the investigation
Maybe my work contributed to bringing attention to the pillage of the country’s resources. – Lyas Hallas
What was your favorite moment of the Panama Papers investigation? What surprised you the most?
Favorite moment? A huge ‘catch’ when just one minute after I opened the Panama Papers database for the first time, I found Rym Sellal, the daughter of the then prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal. It was very motivating.
I also didn’t expect to find the owner of an offshore company linked to the entourage of former energy minister Chakib Khelil who is at the heart of the SONATRACH corruption scandal, our state-owned oil and gas company.
Italy and Algeria had opened court cases and Italian judges had identified this offshore company as one of 17 used to launder $216.92 million (€194 million) in bribes. Yet neither Italy nor Algeria had called on Khelil as a witness. Ditto for the son of the former SONATRACH CEO who received six years in prison for corruption.
What also stuck with me about the Panama Papers is the interest of Algerians in this kind of story. In two years, I published a dozen stories and there was a buzz every time. During the recent protests in Algeria, citizens took to the streets waving images of some of the people featured in his Panama Papers reporting. Lyas Hallas
What were the most significant reactions to your investigations?
The general public reacted well, which was satisfying… In Switzerland, a criminal court dismissed a case brought by an Algerian businessman based, in part, on my Panama Papers reporting.
I had to resign from the newspaper where I worked in order to get my investigation published. I had a story on the Minister of Industry at the time, Abdeslam Bouchouareb.
Bouchouareb put a bit of pressure on the editor – I don’t know what they said. Five days before the agreed publication date with ICIJ, I had to find another newspaper to publish my story… I found one easily, which was good.
I was harassed online by various digital players in the pay of government officials.
Some people said I was dancing to the tune of foreigners and others accused me of faking documents. Khelil wrote on Facebook, without naming me directly, that I was a “Zionist agent.” Obviously, I didn’t react to this kind of nonsense, which was mostly anonymous.
Some people even called me an “agent of Rebrab” [editor’s note: Issad Rebrab, Algeria’s richest man]. I had worked for 11 months in a newspaper where he is the majority shareholder and from which I resigned to publish my Panama Papers story. Yet Rebrab tried to sue me in France because of the Panama Papers.
For someone who has not followed anything, what has happened in Algeria now?
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s desire to seek a fifth term sparked massive demonstrations on February 22 that forced him to resign. Algerians have long lived through his power grab as a great collective humiliation. Bouteflika did leave, but the system that he built — even if it’s weakened — is still in place.
Every Friday during the protests, millions of people rallied in unity around the theme “Get them all out!” The term “all” referred to those widely-despised figures from the Bouteflika era who, in the eyes of the demonstrators, embodied mediocrity, injustice and corruption.
What’s the connection between your Panama Papers investigations and recent events?
It’s not my job to spark protests. Maybe my work contributed to bringing attention to the pillage of the country’s resources and to the lack of some people’s “tax patriotism.” Or maybe it accentuated the feeling of injustice among many Algerians given the impunity of some people I wrote about.
During the recent protests, one of the main slogans was “You have devoured the country, band of looters!” Some protest banners included photos of politicians and businessmen I exposed.
In response to the demonstrations, authorities jailed some of these businessmen, including Issab Rebrab, in order to calm protestors and temper the country’s anger. A few days ago, the Supreme Court reopened a case involving Khelil. They are not being investigated for what I wrote about, but for similar practices to the things I uncovered.
Can you give us a summary of your investigations around these recently arrested men?
Businessman Ali Haddad, and as I mentioned earlier Issad Rebrab, have been arrested.
My investigation of Haddad revealed the illicit transfer of foreign currency through a complex arrangement involving foreign partners in the group of companies that carries out infrastructure projects in Algeria. Anti-corruption investigations against Haddad have not yet been concluded, but he was arrested at the borders with Tunisia while trying to flee.
As for Issad Rebrab, he was detained on charges of “misrepresentation of illicit transfers of capital from and to foreign countries, overcharging of imported equipment and importation of second-hand equipment while he had benefited from customs, tax and banking benefits”. My investigation questioned his background and the origin of his fortune. Policy makers have always made it easy for businessmen close to them to access credit, import licenses and government contracts, while guaranteeing them impunity since for business in Algeria, political support is needed.
The Supreme Court has reopened the case of Chakib Khelil, who has fled the country. Khelil is accused of bribery in a case involving contracts awarded by the state-owned oil company. My investigation revealed that his wife and his son were beneficiaries of offshore companies linked to a money laundering machine worth $220 million (€197 million) in commissions.
You are a veteran of journalism in Algeria. In what state was investigative journalism in Algeria before these demonstrations?
Investigative journalism in Algeria is fragile. It’s difficult to access information and Algerian media remains fundamentally based on opinion.
Even if Algerian media has some freedom in what it says, it doesn’t invest enough in going after real information. It’s subject to the government’s agenda and corporations’ marketing strategies. I would even say that it’s in a pretty sick state because it hasn’t evolved independently of the political forces now being protested against.
Algerian media didn’t develop an economic model based on its relationship with the audience that would have allowed financial independence. Advertising revenue has made the media dependent on advertisers and policymakers.
In short, much of the press is completely discredited. Especially given that the media itself was not untouched by corruption.
Algerians today are demanding a new kind of information and the current media are having a hard time satisfying this demand. Of course, there are small islands of resistance that try to offer quality information. But, it’s necessary to completely rebuild the system.
What is your hope for Algerian journalism after these protests and regime change?
I remain optimistic. The entire community of Algerian journalists is aware of the stakes. I hope that we will have the collective intelligence to set new rules of the game; rules that will establish healthy competition and favor new editorial practices to properly inform Algerians.
I don’t dismiss the value of Algeria’s press in the past, which emerged from struggles that saw journalists sacrifice their lives from generation to generation to be able to freely exercise their profession, especially in the 1990s, a decade in which terrorism had wreaked havoc on Algeria. We lost a hundred journalists and others who were murdered because they were journalists.
But the media system as a whole requires a re-foundation to clarify the ground rules. The opacity that Algeria’s media has evolved into exposes it to arbitrariness.
The most recent manifestation of their widespread use could be assessed as resulting in amongst many things, the calm and easy dethroning of two of North Africa’s long-endured head of states. Their current and discrete assignments appear to be concerned with the complete disposal of the out-dated support systems. One thing is sure in that without these Social Media’s deep penetrations in the region, none of this youthful regeneration could be obtained or at least at such low price.
What is the most popular channel in Saudi Arabia and how many young people still use Facebook? Here are some key facts about one of the most youthful regions on the planet
This article is authored by Damian Radcliffe, the Carolyn S. Chambers professor of journalism at the University of Oregon and Payton Bruni, a journalism student at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, who is also minoring in Arabic Studies.
Since the Arab Spring, there has been increased interest in the role that media, and in particular social media, plays in the region. Our recent report, State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018 explored this topic in depth. Here we outline the implications our research has for journalists.
News consumption for Arab youth is social media-led
“Like their peers in the West, young Arabs today are digital natives,” said Sunil John, founder and CEO of ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, which produces the annual Arab youth survey.
“Young Arabs are now getting their news first on social media, not television. This year, our survey reveals almost two thirds (63 per cent) of young Arabs say they look first to Facebook and Twitter for news. Three years ago, that was just a quarter.”
According to Arabian Business, content creators with more than 10,000 YouTube subscribers enjoy “free access to audio, visual and editing equipment, as well as training programmes, workshops and courses. Those with more than 1,000 subscribers will have access to workshops and events hosted at the space.”
In most countries, Facebook has yet to falter
The social network now has 164 million active monthly users in the Arab world. This is up from 56 million Facebook users just five years earlier.
Interestingly, in contrast to many other markets, 61 per cent of Arab youth say they use Facebook more frequently than a year ago, suggesting the network is still growing.
Egypt, the most populous nation in the region with a population of over 100 million, remains the biggest national market for Facebook in the region, with 24 million daily users and nearly 37 million monthly mobile users.
Saudi Arabia is a social media pioneer
“In 2018, YouTube upstaged long-time leader Facebook to become the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia,” reported Global Media Insight, a Dubai based digital interactive agency.
Data shared by the agency showed YouTube has 23.62 million active users, in the country, with Facebook coming in second with 21.95 million users.
Alongside this, although there are about 12 million daily users of Snapchat in the Gulf region (an area comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman) a staggering 9 million of these are in Saudi Arabia (compared to 1 million in UAE).
A complicated relationship with platforms
Despite YouTube’s wide popularity in the MENA region, the company faced some pushback in the past year, after the network was accused of removing online evidence of Syrian chemical attacks.
Meanwhile, YouTube suspended accounts belonging to Syria’s public international news organisation (SANA,) the Ministry of Defence, and the Syrian Presidency “after a report claimed the channels were violating US sanctions and generating revenue from ads,” Al Jazeera reported.
More generally, social networks have a complicated relationship with the region, with service blocks, or the banning of certain features (such as video calling) being relatively common place, and both news organisations and individuals, can fall foul of greater levels of government oversight.
Derogatory posts have resulted in deportations of residents from UAE, while in 2018, the Egyptian government passed legislation categorising social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, thereby exposing them to monitoring by the authorities.
To find out more, download the full study State of Social Media, Middle East: 2018 from the University of Oregon Scholars’ Bank, or view it online via Scribd, SlideShare, ResearchGate and Academia.Edu.