Al Huffington Post published yesterday an article about the Algerians living in the USA. I didn’t find the article particularly interesting (I don’t seem to find anything really interesting in the Huff Post) and I believed this article should have been in the online aggregator’s French version rather than in the Algerian (yet in French) one. But at least this article pushed me to write this post which I wanted to start a few weeks ago after I’d watched the interview given by Joan A. Polaschik, US ambassador to Algeria, to APS.
In the video above, Mrs. Polaschik says that her focus will be on three areas: promoting security and stability in our region, strengthening economic and commercial ties between the two countries, and strengthening the bonds between our two peoples. APS journalists were more interested in the former two and this is why I am dedicating this post to the latter item.
My previous post about the US and Algeria was a poll on whether the Algerian reader was or not pro-American. That post had a big number of views and generated many reactions (coming second to this other post in terms of the number of comments). I wrote it after Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, met with some Algerian individuals referred to as Algeria’s “civil society representatives”. And it is this same civil society that Joan Polaschik wants to support in order to “strengthen the bonds between our two peoples” together with the promotion of the English language in Algeria.
The ambassador is aware that the position of the English language is still very weak in the country and speaking French (and not Arabic) is a must if she wants to have some real influence within the people. This is probably why she finished her interview in Arabic saying the usual “I am honoured to be in your beautiful country” phrases and more importantly, in French this time, saying again her three focus areas. So it is just normal that the US (and the UK through the British Council) do a lot to support English teaching in Algeria. Today, the US embassy’s Facebook page published pictures of the ambassador attending a graduation ceremony of some English language school they sponsor in Setif.
The US doesn’t only promote English teaching, they also organize trainings in other fields which are given in Algeria as well as in the US and target categories as diverse as the Algerian members of parliament or the Algerian judges.
But this is not enough, the US embassy does a lot in order to increase its visibility in the country: the embassy hosts a booth at the Algiers International Book Fair and the successive ambassadors pay visits to the Algerian newspapers and give interviews. Social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) are also heavily used and are followed by many Algerians. The embassy never misses the opportunity to extend its wishes on Eid or Independence Day or comment on our football NT’s achievements.
I don’t know how effective this is, as many comments I read on Facebook go like “visas please”, but I can tell it creates a some sort of… bond (yes I said the word!) And here I will speak of the UK’s former ambassador to Algeria (Martyn Roper) who was very active online and even interacted with his followers on Twitter. He also wrote weekly contributions (in English and Arabic) in Algerian newspaper Echourouk (mostly to explain UK policies in the Middle East). So when the man left, many of Algerian followers expressed their sadness, etc. On a side note, he’s now appointed somewhere in China ans most of his tweets are about this country even though he still dedicates a tweet or two to Algeria…
I have watched another video of a former US ambassador to Algeria, Mr. Robert Ford, who spoke about the above activities which he put in his five-lessons list about public diplomacy. I suggest you watch the lecture but here, for the lazy, the two examples he gave on Algeria:
- Algeria is a strong police state and its rulers were frightened when he maintained a high media profile. I wonder what the authorities thought of Martyn Roper who were much more visible than Ford. So Ford advises his fellow American diplomats to not overuse access to the media.
- At some point, Ford was about to visit the university of Tlemcen to see students who took online classes sponsored by the US. He was reluctant as he thought Tlemcen was conservative and feared to face anti-American demonstrations (as in the Arab countries). But everything went well and he was even applauded. Ford says this was thanks to all the trainings sponsored by the Embassy and advises therefore to not underestimate soft power. Ford is probably right but, on this very example, he obviously didn’t know well the country (despite his second lesson: reach out to regular people) to understand that there are no such demonstrations in today’s Algeria.
Ok, this is a long post and I am not convinced it is as interesting as the Huff Post’s. Whether you feel targeted by the above actions or not, keep your eyes open and take nothing for granted. Or else… sing Oh! I love America.