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White Supremacy & ISIS

Cartoon by Steve Sack

Where We Go Wrong in Comparing White Supremacy With ISIS

TIME: Throughout my career as an academic and author in international relations, I have been instinctively averse to discuss my personal identity in my analysis. Today is an exception, because it’s an unusual time to be both a white Englishman, whose family’s roots in England stretch back for more generations than I can count, and to be an Arab of Egyptian, Sudanese and Moroccan extraction on the other. And at a time when white supremacists and ISIS-style extremists pose incredible threats to us in the West, it often seems that we don’t compare these two, very different, phenomena correctly.

As part of my work, I pore over extremist literature — by ISIS and sympathizers, but also by white supremacists and populist nationalists. Our societies have become particularly sensitive to the notion that the rhetoric of non-violent extremists in the far-right end of the Islamist universe can be weaponized. It doesn’t mean they will always lead to militant groups like ISIS, but the transition becomes less difficult.

In the aftermath of the July 7 2005 bombings in London, I became the deputy head of a working group convened by the British government to address how to tackle radicalization. One conclusion we reached was that there was, indeed, an extremist ideology—now perhaps best described as ISIS-style extremism—that takes its inspiration from a heterodox interpretation of religion. Thankfully, it is one that affects only a tiny minority of Muslims worldwide, and an even more minute proportion in the West. Nevertheless, we rightly are concerned about – quite vividly.

But when it comes to white supremacy, experts at the Soufan Center, founded by a former FBI special agent, describe a “long-running U.S. double standard with concerns over crime and terrorism that are inspired by the narrative of Bin Ladenism versus crime and terrorism inspired by right-wing ideology.” Just months ago, the former head of the London Metropolitan police’s counterterrorism unit said the U.K. had not “woken up” to the threat that the far-right represents. We are continually giving succour to white supremacist rhetoric, let alone sufficiently challenging it.

Following the March 15 attacks in Christchurch, a reporter asked Donald Trump if he saw white nationalism as a rising threat around the world. He responded: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

It’s a stark denial. It’s one that brings to mind the warning that the U.K.’s top anti-terror policeman in the UK issued this week: “The reality is that every terrorist we have dealt with has sought inspiration from the propaganda of others, and when they can’t find it on Facebook, YouTube, Telegram or Twitter they only have to turn on the TV, read the paper or go to one of a myriad of mainstream media websites struggling to compete with those platforms.” This problem is much larger than many of us want to admit.

And ironically, it may well be white supremacy that is the larger problem for us in the West. Last week, New Zealand suffered its own version of London’s July 7 bombings, or even—given New Zealand’s tiny population size—an attack closer to 9/11 in the United States. But for all its repugnant evil, ISIS-style extremism cannot hope to destroy the integrity of Western societies.

After all, ISIS style-extremism appeals to a tiny minority of a tiny minority within Western societies. Even where it has proportionately more appeal, within Muslim majority communities, the attraction is minuscule. Moreover, there is no country in the world where we can imagine that an ISIS-style entity could conceivably emerge again, given that its neighbours and the world would immediately gather to crush it.

When it comes to white supremacy, and the wider universe of white nationalism that it draws from, none of that is the case. Sympathy for either white supremacy or white nationalism is far greater in our Western societies than any kind of ideology sympathetic to ISIS. Indeed, I would argue that even when we compare to the lure that ISIS-style ideology has in Muslim majority societies, we may even have more of a problem proportionally with white white supremacy. But we still do not call out white nationalism and white supremacism commensurate to the threats they pose.

Compare this to how we examine sectarianism in the Arab world. Sectarianism against Muslims of different sects, and non-Muslim faith communities like Christians or Yazidis, has claimed the lives of many. We regularly — and correctly — identify that sectarian discourse inhabits certain parts of the far-right portions of the Islamist universe, and thus the impact it has.

But when it comes to white supremacy, are we so clear and direct about the threat? Or do we minimize it?

Take, for example, how, the Daily Mirror in the U.K. described the Christchurch suspect as an “angelic boy” who then grew into a terrorist. Or how the Daily Mail in Australia described him as a “bullied school boy” who then became a mass murderer—saying he was ‘badly picked on as a child because he was chubby.” Would any reputable media outlet ever refer to an ISIS supporter who massacred a group of Christians at worship in a church in this manner?

As an Arab, I recognise the threat of ISIS-style extremism: it has been Arabs of all faith groups, and Muslims more generally, who are the main victims of that kind of extremism.

But ISIS-style extremists cannot hope to overturn the West as we know it, regardless of how much they may wish to. As an Englishman, I see far more of an existential threat posed by the rise of white supremacy to the fundamental integrity of my country and the West. After the atrocity visited upon New Zealand, we must recognise that threat — and fight it accordingly.

H.A. Hellyer is a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and the Atlantic Council in Washington, and the author of “Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans.” Follow him on Twitter @hahellyer

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Trump & Saturday Night Live

Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies

Why Trump Is Stuck With ‘Saturday Night Live’

Bloomberg Opinion: President Donald Trump apparently caught a rerun of “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, and decided to tweet Sunday morning that the NBC program should be investigated by the Federal Communications Commission for parodying him so much. That’s legally absurd.

But Trump’s lament reflects the persistent power of the old idea that television networks should be fair to all political sides and give equal time to all candidates for office. It’s worth asking: What’s the current state of the law on broadcaster fairness? And beyond the law, should fairness be an objective of any kind in the era of cable news and social media?

It’s important to distinguish the two legal principles derived from the federal regulation of broadcasting: the fairness doctrine and the equal-time rule.

The fairness doctrine, instituted by FCC regulation in 1949, required radio and television broadcasters to be honest, equitable and balanced in presenting matters of public importance. It applied only to licensed broadcasters using the airwaves, not to newspapers. Cable television hadn’t yet been invented.

The doctrine was challenged as a limitation on broadcasters’ freedom of speech, because it obviously affected what they could and must say. In an important 1969 decision, Red Lion v. FCC, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the fairness rule.

The court reasoned that because bandwidth was a scarce, limited resource, owned by the government and effectively leased to licensed broadcasters, the usual First Amendment limits on regulation didn’t fully apply.

The court also hinted at a broader public right to know, albeit in language it has rarely, if ever, used since. “The people as a whole,” the court said, “retain their interest in free speech by radio and their collective right to have the medium function consistently with the ends and purposes of the First Amendment.”

Crucially, the court said, “it is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”

The fairness doctrine helped create the background expectation that television news would be fair. You’ll recognize it as the probable origin of Fox News’s now-dropped slogan “fair and balanced.”

Yet the fairness doctrine was heavily criticized, and the FCC gave it up in 1987, while Ronald Reagan was president. It was formally repealed in 2011.

That made constitutional sense. Cable news made the Supreme Court’s scarcity rationale seem hopelessly outdated, and the internet made it seem medieval.

In a world where there was no technological bandwidth limit, broadcasters seem much more like newspapers whose free speech rights can’t be limited by fairness. And treating broadcasters differently from cable channels also seems strange in a world where almost everyone has cable or access to its channels.

So the fairness doctrine that Trump wants to apply to “SNL” no longer exists.

The equal-time rule is alive, however. It’s contained in the 1934 Communications Act. It says, essentially, that if a broadcaster gives its platform over to one candidate, it must give equal time to the candidate’s competitors.

That doesn’t apply to parody, of course. Alec Baldwin isn’t running for office. There’s no other candidate being given airtime. Trump’s tweet is legally wrong.

“SNL” was actually once accused of breaking the equal-time rule in Trump’s favor — by letting him host the show in 2015. In response to the charge, NBC cut a deal with Republican primary candidates John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, James Gilmore and Lindsey Graham, giving them free airtime on affiliates in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as time on “SNL” itself.

It’s tempting to conclude that Trump got the idea of equal time in his head when that happened, and has subsequently misapplied it to his parody alter ego.

Regardless of the law, should networks try to be fair and balanced on the issues or to the candidates? In the marketplace of ideas, the answer depends on what market the networks are trying to reach.

If a network genuinely wants to appear evenhanded to audiences — and advertisers — then fairness and equal time are the way to go. A clear rule should protect networks from inevitable bullying on all sides.

But there are other objectives that media can pursue beyond fairness.

For example, a network or newspaper might aim at the truth. The truth isn’t always evenhanded. Pursuing partisan balance is at odds with the truth if one side in the debate lies more than the other.

And truth itself can be divided into facts, which can be checked, and opinions, which require deeper engagement to determine the moral truth.

In their own ways, Fox News (from the right) and MSNBC (from the left) are pursuing political or moral truths that are inseparable from political viewpoint. It would be counterproductive for those cable networks to be fair and balanced.

The most we can ask is that, in the cut and thrust of public debate, opinions get challenged and analyzed, and facts get examined.

So far, government regulation hasn’t solved that problem anywhere in the world. Free speech is far from perfect. But it’s the best tool we have to produce a greater fairness, and a greater truth.

Far right threat

Cartoon by Naji Benaji

We’ve been too slow to see the far right threat

The Observer View: After so many attacks over so many years, we have become inured to terrorist atrocities. This in itself is a tragedy. Yet even after so much previous bloodshed in the name of hate-filled ideologies, the murder of 49 men, women and children at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday has spread shock and disgust around the globe.

There is something particularly appalling about targeting people for their faith, as they engage in the act of worship.

But there were other factors behind our collective outrage: recognition of the spread, power and brutality of the global far right; the evidence that it feeds off a widening Islamophobia that reaches deep into our political culture; and the demonstration of how terrorism has been made immeasurably more effective by modern technology, in this case the manner in which the attacker deployed Facebook to display his gruesome work.

Expressions of solidarity and support have flooded in from all over the world. These are made in the hope that they will provide some comfort to Muslims who will be feeling even less safe after Friday’s attacks and are to be welcomed. But thoughts and prayers are not, and have never been, enough. In the weeks and months after such an atrocity – when the initial shock and grief has passed, but the extra police presence remains – we have a duty to the Muslim, Jewish and other minorities that feel under threat from far-right extremism. It is to ask a simple question: are we doing all in our power to prevent such an attack happening again?

The regrettable truth is that expressing deep sympathy in the immediate aftermath of an attack comes much more easily than longer-term reflection on the role that politicians, and social and traditional media may play in creating an environment in which far-right terrorism can flourish.

There can be no doubt that the west has underestimated the risk of far-right terrorism. The murder of the MP Jo Cox in 2016 left Britain numb with shock. Yet what lessons were really learned in the wake of her assassination? Since then, the far-right threat has only grown. In June 2017, one person was killed and many more injured after a man drove a van into a crowd outside Finsbury Park Mosque. There were a further 11 far-right terrorist attacks that year and yet more attacks were thwarted by police, including a plot by a member of the neo-Nazi group National Action to murder the MP Rosie Cooper. This is why the former head of counter-terrorism at the Met, Mark Rowley, has warned that the UK has not yet “woken up” to the threat posed by the far right.

Britain is not alone in this: in the US, the number of far-right terrorist attacks quadrupled between 2016 and 2017. Last year, 11 people were shot while worshipping at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Yet President Trump has slashed funding aimed at reducing domestic terrorism.

There has been a tendency for our political leaders to underplay far-right violence by claiming that it is the product of isolated individuals, while seeing Muslim terrorists as linked to groups working systematically to destroy western liberal societies.

One reason for this double standard may be that it is easier to attribute organised evil to fundamentalist movements whose origins lie in societies that appear to have little in common with the west than to accept that the same evil can grow in the hearts of those who live alongside us.

But this failure blinkers us to how much far-right and Islamist terrorism have in common.

Two critical elements they share are the importance of non-violent extremist statements and ideas in radicalising those who go on to commit terrorist atrocities and the role of social media in disseminating hatred and radicalising others.

Like its Islamist counterpart, far-right terrorism is only one element of a much broader movement. When that movement is strong and empowered, so are its violent elements. Here in Britain, Ukip has embraced far-right extremism under its leader, Gerald Batten, who has described Islam as “a death cult” and has appointed Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the far-right thug better known as “Tommy Robinson”, as an adviser. Five out of the 10 far-right activists with the biggest social media reach in the world are British. Elsewhere in Europe, populists who appeal to the Islamophobic and the antisemitic are increasing their power base: Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland.

But it is not just a problem in the political fringes. Here in the UK, both mainstream parties have become infected with racist hate. The Conservative party stands accused of failing to act upon all allegations of Islamophobia in its candidates and members. Moreover, senior Tories have been complicit in spreading Islamophobia. Last year, Boris Johnson compared Muslim women wearing burqas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. According to the hate crime monitors Tell Mama, this led to a rise in incidents targeting women wearing the burqa. In 2016, Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for London mayor deployed a series of racist dogwhistles to imply that Sadiq Khan had links to Muslim extremists. Not only did he face no censure, other senior Tories, including David Cameron, joined in: Theresa May said Khan was unfit to be mayor “at a time when we face a significant threat from terrorism”. Jeremy Corbyn has been so remiss in getting a grip on antisemitism in the Labour party that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has taken the extraordinary step of opening an investigation into the party.

Social media platforms and news sites have too often fallen into the trap of spreading the terrorists’ message. Hours after the Christchurch shootings, the footage the attacker streamed live could still be viewed online. Other publications have been too quick to give a platform to Islamophobic views in the name of free speech without acknowledging that with free speech comes responsibility and there may be real-world consequences to their decisions.

Eight years ago, Sayeeda Warsi argued that Islamophobia had passed the “dinner-table test” in Britain. Since then, Islamophobia and antisemitism have come to pollute mainstream politics. The link between hate speech and violent extremism may be complex and indirect, but it would be naive to dismiss it altogether. So the world faces an important test in its response to Christchurch. Will it be to express solidarity and move on? Or will our leaders make more effort to call out all forms of racist hate wherever they are found? That would be a fitting tribute to the 49 people who lost their lives on Friday.

Message from President Trump

Mama

Endless Wars

Cartoon by Matt Wuerker

Senate passes resolution to end US support for Saudi war in Yemen 

The Guardian: The Senate has voted to end US support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition’s war in Yemen, bringing Congress one step closer to a unprecedented rebuke of Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

Lawmakers have never before invoked the decades-old War Powers Resolution to stop a foreign conflict, but they are poised to do just that in the bid to cut off US support for a war that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.

The vote puts Congress on a collision course with Trump, who has already threatened to veto the resolution, which the White House says raises “serious constitutional concerns”.

The measure was co-sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders and the Utah Republican Mike Lee. Next, it will move to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to pass.

“The bottom line is that the United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime with an irresponsible foreign policy,” Sanders said on Wednesday from the Senate floor. He said a vote in favor of the measure would “begin the process of reclaiming our constitutional authority by ending United States involvement in a war that has not been authorized by Congress and is unconstitutional”.

In its statement threatening a veto, the White House argued the premise of the resolution was flawed and that it would undermine the fight against extremism. US support for the Saudis did not constitute engaging in “hostilities”, the statement said, and the Yemen resolution “seeks to override the president’s determination as commander in chief”.

“By defining ‘hostilities’ to include defense cooperation such as aerial refueling,” the statement said, the Yemen resolution could also “establish bad precedent for future legislation”.

Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia has been a point of tension with Congress since the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized Trump for not condemning Saudi Arabia strongly enough for the killing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell addressed those tensions when he urged his colleagues to oppose the measure.

“We should not use this specific vote on a specific policy decision as some proxy for all the Senate’s broad feelings about foreign affairs. Concerns about Saudi human rights issues should be directly addressed with the administration and with Saudi officials,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.

McConnell argued the Yemen resolution “will not enhance America’s diplomatic leverage” and would make it more difficult for the US to end the conflict in Yemen and minimize civilian casualties.

A similar resolution to end support for the Yemen war passed the Senate in December, but it was not taken up by the then Republican-controlled House.

Approaching its fifth year, the war in Yemen has killed thousands and left millions on the brink of starvation, creating what the United Nations called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Senator Chris Murphy said before the vote that the resolution “will be seen as a message to the Saudis that they need to clean up their act.”

“We are made weaker in the eyes of the world when we willingly participate in war crimes, when we allow our partners to engage in the slaughter of innocents,” Murphy said.

Brexit Bore

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte

Punchbag May is humiliated again. But for MPs the real crisis starts now

The Guardian: Well, that seemed interminable. It was gone 7.20pm by the time the tellers appeared. And the prime minister was hammered again. 391-242 would, in normal times, represent a total humiliation. But we don’t live in normal times. Nowadays, the second biggest defeat in the House of Commons since 1924 represents progress.

The problem now confronting the prime minister is a relatively simple one. The endless, breathless speculation and rolling coverage of days such as today often feels more like football transfer deadline day than politics-as-usual. But as any football fan knows, deadline day depends on the existence of a fixed deadline that everyone accepts.

Yet once again today, there was a sense among MPs that this was not really, truly, the last chance saloon. Jean-Claude Juncker had declared that the EU would accept an extension until the European parliament elections. The 29 March deadline will come and it will go. MPs will have the chance on Thursday to instruct May to seek a delay. So again, this was a free hit they took at the prime minister’s battered, bruised and bleeding bill.

Now what? Well, the prime minister spelled out what will happen. There will be a vote on no deal. Following that, assuming that parliament votes to reject no deal – which it certainly will – there will be that vote for an extension.

But May was right to point out that these moves will “not solve the problems we face”. A massive vote against no deal will not, contrary to popular myth, take anything “off the table”. All it will do is illustrate that there is absolutely no appetite in parliament for this outcome.

Moving on, parliament still has a choice to make. Now, slowly, it is crystallising. Of all the things said in Strasbourg on Monday evening, Juncker said perhaps the most important.

First, he was clear that the European Union would not open negotiations again. As far as Brussels is concerned this is the only deal on the table, and further talks would be pointless. Second, the EU would allow us an extension until the European parliament elections at the end of May. Any longer, and we would need to hold our own elections or move in some way towards a second referendum.

So maybe there is, finally, a deadline. And this will focus minds as never before. Brexiters will have to decide if they prefer this deal to the danger of no Brexit at all. Labour MPs opposed to another referendum will have to make up their minds. Do they take the plunge and back a Conservative deal, or swallow a second popular vote? Remarkable though it may seem, at that point a majority for the deal might be within grasp.

Of course, parliament might try to seize control from the prime minister. MPs might try, for instance, to push for a longer extension, potentially one large enough to allow time for a referendum. The votes don’t seem to be present for this as yet. If they did, don’t discount the possibility of the prime minister reacting to prevent this, conceivably by deciding to go back to the people herself to seek a new mandate.

But if things go as Downing Street must be hoping (assuming there is any hope left in Downing Street), then we would proceed with parliament having made clear it opposed no deal, and with the prime minister asking Brussels for a short extension.

At that point, MPs really will have choices to make.

It bears repeating, to conclude, how strange the times are in which we live. Among the consternation following the vote and the prime minister’s obvious disappointment at hearing the scale of her defeat, we had the sight of the leader of Her Majesty’s Government promising a free vote on no deal. This was, in effect, an admission she has lost control of her party. Now government stands on the brink of losing control of parliament. If it clings on, remarkably, May’s deal might yet come back for Meaningful Vote 3. If it doesn’t, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

• Anand Menon is director of the UK in a Changing Europe, and professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London

Nasrin Sotoudeh

Cartoon by Rainer Hachfeld

Amnesty calls for EU intervention after Iran lawyer jailed for 38 years

The Law Society Gazette: Human rights activists have urged the international community to step in after a campaigning Iranian lawyer had her jail sentence significantly increased.

Woman’s rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh faces a total of 38 years in jail and 148 lashes – the harshest documented sentence for a lawyer in Iran in recent years.

Sotoudeh, who represents women who have protested having to wear the headscarf, denies national security-related charges made against her.

Amnesty International says her punishment follows two ‘grossly unfair’ trials and is an ‘outrageous injustice’.

Reports emerge that Nasrin Sotoudeh also faces 148 lashes for various crimes in relation to human rights work

The charity reports that Sotoudeh was recently informed by the office for the implementation of sentences in Tehran’s Evin prison where she is jailed, that she had been convicted on seven charges and sentenced to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes. This is in addition to a five-year sentence handed down in 2016. The charges, which are in response to her human rights work, include ‘inciting corruption and prostitution’, ‘openly committing a sinful act by … appearing in public without a hijab’ and ‘disrupting public order’.

In Sotoudeh’s case, Amnesty says the judge, Mohammad Moghiseh, applied the maximum statutory sentence for each of her seven charges and then added another four years to her total prison term, raising it from the statutory maximum of 29 to 33 years.

Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, said Sotoudeh should be released immediately and unconditionally and her sentence quashed.

‘Nasrin Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to defending women’s rights and speaking out against the death penalty - it is utterly outrageous that Iran’s authorities are punishing her for her human rights work,’ he said.

‘Governments with influence over Iran should use their power to push for Nasrin Sotoudeh’s release. The international community, notably the European Union, which has an ongoing dialogue with Iran, must take a strong public stand against this disgraceful conviction and urgently intervene to ensure that she is released immediately and unconditionally.’

Last year the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said the country had violated domestic laws and international obligations following news that at least three lawyers had been charged and four others blocked from retaining clients over the past eight months.

Algeria’s collapse

Cartoon by Naji Benaji

The arrogant regime of Algeria’s invisible man faces collapse 

The Guardian: Since suffering a stroke in 2013, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been ill and unable to move. His last speech was made a year before that happened, and in it he promised that “his generation – that of the decolonisers – is done, dusted” and that he would pass the torch to the new generation. The speech was aimed at placating the under-30s, who make up the biggest demographic in Algeria but who have no political representation in the country.

Bouteflika did not keep his promise and is still in power. The president is now invisible, ill, mute and has been replaced by a portrait that his supporters parade throughout the country and embrace in front of the cameras. But that has not stopped him and his men – his brother, the chief of armed forces and a handful of loyal businessmen and ministers from his region – setting their sights on a surreal fifth mandate.

For weeks now Algerians have been turning out in towns across the country to voice their anger at this scenario, but Bouteflika’s team is resisting all calls to step aside. So where does his “power” come from? And what are the reasons why he could ultimately prove weak?

There are several reasons for the regime’s arrogance. The first is oil and gas and the revenues they bring. Even if prices fall, social subsidies will almost never be affected. Algerians who are fed, housed and protected could only ever – goes the argument – vote for Bouteflika, even in his absence.

Second, the regime still exercises control over large parts of the Algerian public sphere, from the police to the unions and the media. It is a monarchy that has in recent years taken to violently oppressing opponents, old partisans, and above all young bloggers and internet users.

The third reason – and this is what really makes the great invalid of Algeria think he can live forever – is the regime’s control over the army. (Ever since he took power, Bouteflika has carried out a discreet kind of blackmail on the high-ranking officers of today via the files of Algeria’s bloody civil war, with its “disappeared” and its tortured.)

The last reason stems from the trauma of war: a decade, from 1990 to 2000, of massacres, oppression and attacks which left a deep mark on Algerians. The memory of that chaos was triggered by the Arab Spring uprisings, and again last month, before the big demonstrations, Bouteflika’s apparatchiks all had the same argument: if you Algerians rise up, you’ll be heading for another Syria or Libya.

The protesters will not forget this blackmail and have rejected it through a thousand slogans.

The regime is betting that most of those who have taken to the streets will eventually succumb to fear and fatigue. And if the security argument does not work, the clan of Algiers is relying on another: the absence of an alternative. The opposition of the street has a sublime passion. It is a coming together that has never been seen before in Algeria. It represents a rediscovered pride and a voice that has taken the world by surprise.

But it remains a collection of slogans, an amorphous expression of rage without alternatives. There are no arbiters between the two sides and the regime is proposing an order that the opposition, despite its legitimacy, can’t possibly represent. Playing for time, it could end up accepting the departure of Bouteflika, but not the collapse of the entire system.

For their part, the protesters don’t just want the presidential elections to be called off but a total change – a second republic. The slogans are clear: “Get out, FLN!” “Out with the system!” “Give us back our country!”

So the regime is still there, not because it’s strong but because the opposition is not yet concrete enough.

Could the regime collapse? Yes, and very quickly. What that requires is the emergence of arbitrators to secure the departure of the regime’s apparatchiks, their families and their capital. The regime has been making repeated gaffes and seems finally to have embraced a strategy of strict silence: no statements, no provocations of protesters and no repression. While the protesters insist that their protests will remain peaceful, the regime is aware there is also the possibility of disobedience if the order is given to fire on people’s legs, as the army did in October 1988 when the Algerian people took to the streets to call for democracy. That act of repression caused hundreds of deaths, and was followed by a terrible civil war. Today the army would not obey. That’s what everyone believes.

Bouteflika’s health is another reason why the regime risks a speedy collapse. From an invisible, impotent man replaced by a familial regency we now have a man who is even more ill and stuck in hospital in Geneva, his condition reportedly life-threatening. Much as the regime attempts to quash it, this detail has been published on Facebook and other social media networks. In the words of one young protester: “We were blind and deaf and God sent us his prophet: the internet.” This generation has lived through neither the war of independence nor the civil war – just the freedom of social media. Today this freedom has sprung from screens into the street. The internet has been the great giver of freedom of speech in Algeria and the regime has realised it too late. It tried to slow it down during the first days of the protests, but it was useless. Algerians – hyper-connected – found out that they could have not only a Facebook page but a country.

The future? It will be decided this week. The current situation is untenable for both sides. So it’s worth following this neo-spring which, to use its slogans, wants “neither beard, nor kamis [shalwar kameez], nor police”.

Kamel Daoud is an Algerian journalist and writer whose 2013 novel The Meursault Investigation won the Goncourt prize for a first novel.

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