Guide to becoming the President

Lounis Ait Menguellet

Ait Menguellet is one of the few Algerian artists whose songs accompanied me throughout my life. His music, poetic and witty lyrics are combined with his voice to make a masterpiece out of most of his songs.

In one of the songs, “A mmi” (“My son” in English), he relates a dialogue between a young man and his father. The discussion is about politics and how to become the president of the country. The song, edited on 1983, tells us how age and experience replace noble values such as idealism, altruism, optimism, trust, ambition, etc. with some other values: realism, resignation, distrust, fear, treachery, etc.
And it is said that he got the inspiration for this song from The Prince of Machiavelli.

I won’t translate the song into English, mainly because it’s relatively long and also because my words would probably deprive the lyrics of their magic and beauty. But I will translate excerpts which I found interesting.

The song starts with the son who just finished his studies and thinks that the people in Power are no better than him, so decides to join them and work for the country. His ambition led him to believe that he could even become the first among them, the President. He tells his father about his plan and explains that he would do good, rely on education and science, and work together with the people who would definitely support him to improve the country’s situation. He assures that he’s not after “the chair” but only wants to serve his country and people.

The father is amazed at his son’s naïvety; and after he failed in convincing him to change his mind, he decides to give him some advice and hints he gathered from his long experience and the lessons life taught him. Here is a list of some of these valuable rules:

  • Put aside your education and pure soul.
  • Acquire the knowledge of perversity which is the basis of the world.
  • Use kind words with the people, and your hand must only caress them. Use others’ hands to punish them.
  • Calculate every move and refuse the concept of fate. Never commit on anything with God.
  • Select your words carefully and learn the art of lie and manipulation. People will be glad to believe you and deny the truth.
  • Never trust your friends because your enemies are likely to use them against you.
  • Create wars and send those you fear to the front. You will mourn their deaths and gain the people’s sympathy.
  • Suppress anyone better than you, and tell the people that a strange illness killed him.
  • Drown with money anyone understands your plans.
  • If you feel someone is going to revolt then send him your worst thugs to get him back on track.
  • Don’t fear to kill. Power is at the price of bloody hands.
  • If the people are believers then never forget the rosary and pray with them even if you are an atheist.
  • The people who believe only what they see are easy to fool.

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7 thoughts on “Guide to becoming the President

  1. Well, this is exactly why the State and all people in power should be stripped of as much as possible of their ability to exercise it rendering the State in effect, useless.

    Useless states and politicians, empowered individuals. This is what we want as opposed to strengthened states and politicians and useless individuals.

    • Looks to me like a model of Anarchism. I believe in a strong state with useful institutions. And empowered individuals must be part of this state by being (truly) represented in its institutions but also in what we call the civil society, a powerful one.

      • Not necessarily Anarchism. A strong state will always tend towards totalitarianism, even if it starts off with genuine democracy. I think that this is an empirical observation which has been made again and again and we can safely assume that a state is a necessary evil which must be kept in check by all means. What would be even better is to strip it off its powers except the very strict minimum: I suggest to keep the defense and foreign relations as State-controlled.

        Everything else will be localized. I believe that a democracy will only be meaningful and have every chance to work when the community is small. It will be simpler to manage and communication will be more effective which will empower individuals within their communities. Also, trade between the communities and within them must be free and uncontrolled (anarchist if you like). This will enhance ties, common bonds and stability.

        The only problem is that there will be a point where cohesion between the communities will be threatened and some might want to split. This may be initiated by the State in order to justify it getting more power.

  2. Are anarchists the solution? I have to ask the question: if the people elected to govern the country don’t even believe in the beneficial role of the very government they are a part of, why would they govern, or even, why should they be trusted with governing at all?

    Reagan had said (in the middle of the recession left behind by Jimmy Carter) “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem”. His plan eventually worked and Americans knew some of the most prosperous years in America’s history.

    Nowadays, effective governing may require incorporation of bodies of popular authority and reform (not abandonment) of state-centred authority. Probably the problem is that politics have given up any idealism. The result is that we, as individuals, become trapped in a system over which it is no longer possible to exert any control short of resorting to extremes.

  3. The strategic and tactical lessons in the son go either way; they can be used in a constructive or a detrimental way. My favorite line in this song has always been the part about drowning people who catch on to your plans with cash; it speaks to the way that greed and wealth can destroy the spirit. It makes the bribe a form of moral assassination. And of course friends as a weakness is also insightful; there is a Jay-Z song similar to this one, talking about the life of the American version of an Algerian president — the crack dealer. “D’evils” by Jay-Z is very similar. Also Bob Dylan’s “Gods of war”.

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