Dr. Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck: “Algerians took up to the street on February 22 because they were fed up with the system”

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Dr. Dalia Ghanem picture by Juan Luis Rod

Dr. Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck (photo Juan Luis Rod)

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You have worked on issues related to terrorism, including in the field. In your opinion, can we fight terrorism without fighting the ideology that generates it?

Dr. Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck: It is tough to do so because bombs and weapons do not fight ideas. As long as the idea is there and is not fought and countered, then it will be hard to get rid of terrorism. Governments need to better develop both offline and online alternative narratives to extremist ideologies. We need to give young men and women better tools to be able to tackle extremist propaganda. These narratives should comprise social, media campaigns, educational campaigns for young people in schools, and civil associations…etc. Besides, as long as there is social injustice, marginalization, repression, etc., the specter of jihadism will continue to haunt many countries in the world.

You are an distinguished researcher who has worked on very sensitive topics, including the phenomenon of jihadist women. This is an issue that is rarely covered in the media. How do you explain this phenomenon of jihadist women?

The reasons that entice women to jihadism are multi-dimensional and entangled. They can be political, social, economic, psychological or philosophical. Women do not join IS only to become “Jihadi brides,” as claimed by several media outlets! In addition, they are not passive agents and victims of males who convinced them to take up a violent career. Women are political and rational actors who have different and complex reasons to join an extremist group such as the IS organization. I wrote on the topic, and one of my paper is called the “Female face of Jihadism,” I recommend reading it as I analyze thoroughly the reasons that entice women to join the Islamic State organization.

In your opinion, do not the children of terrorist families coming from the combat zones in Syria and Iraq be time bombs with the brainwashing they suffered, knowing that many of them were Daesh’s child soldiers?

Governments that welcome these children who are suffering from several trauma need to invest in their psychological healing. These kids grew up in an extreme environment and saw gruesome acts. It is impossible to expect them to become a “normal” citizen without psychological help.

The return of jihadists from the combat zones is a major concern for Western countries. In your opinion, do they not constitute a medium and long-term danger for these countries?

I believe that some of these returnees will constitute a threat, while others will try to go unnoticed and live their lives. However, for those who show signs of regrets and are willing to cooperate with their governments, these should be given a voice. The counter-narrative that I was talking about earlier needs to be delivered by an appropriate and “legitimate” source. The example of the American Think Again Turn Away campaign is enlightening. Why was failure a failure? Because the campaign was created by the US Department of State destroyed its credibility. Indeed, an at-risk individual who thinks that the State Department is the “enemy to be destroyed” would never listen to its counter-narrative. Instead, former extremists, returnees, defectors and incarcerated extremists should be given a chance to discuss their experience and tell their stories in public because they have an authenticity that allows them to gain the trust of the returnees or at-risk individuals.

The issue of deradicalization often appears in the West and experiments have been conducted with the creation of deradicalization centers, etc., but these experiments have not been conclusive. In your opinion, is it possible to deradicalize terrorists? Does the concept of deradicalization make sense?

Deradicalization does not make sense. In fact, the word “radicalization” in French, comes from the root “radical,” which means “roots.” These people are in lack of roots and what we found to help them is “uproot” them? No. It is rehabilitation that is needed. Also, there is no science, no discipline that can convince anyone to stop thinking of what one thinks. We can help in orienting, in fixing the concepts of one individual, but only he or she can decide to change his or her beliefs. No center, no science for such a decision.

Algeria and the Algerian army, which have fought terrorism through many years, have proven experience in the field of counter-terrorism, according to several intelligence specialists I interviewed. In your opinion, is not the Algerian experience in the fight against terrorism a model that should inspire all countries that are experiencing the terrorist phenomenon?

It is during the civil war (1992-2001) that the Algerian authorities learned, the hard way, about counter-terrorism strategies. They have succeeded in neutralizing the more extremist jihadi manifestations of political Islam, meaning the jihadist threat by combining a soft and a hard approach. On the one hand, the security forces deployed significant and strong military presence to fight armed groups on the ground; on the other hand, and they put in place  conciliatory measures aimed at disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating former extremists into society. Many former jihadists were offered a voice. They spoke on national television about their experience and their motivation in joining jihadist groups. This campaign helped raise public awareness about the dangers of violent extremism and of course it gave the reconciliation policy an additional layer of legitimacy. It also helped in discouraging others from joining or remaining a part of the jihadi cause. As a result, some 15,000 former jihadists renounced violence. To help them reintegrate into society, prevent recidivism, and fend off economic hardship, substantial financial compensations were offered to them. Rehabilitation efforts were specifically job-centered because the authorities wanted to restore a sense of citizenship in these people.

Algeria has experienced a great popular movement since February 22, which resulted in the resignation of former President Bouteflika. How do you analyze this movement?

Algerians took up to the street on February 22 because they were fed up with the system. The events that have been shaking up the country for six months are a unique sequence of events that we, Algerians, have not seen since the 1990s. What is also amazing about these protests is their peaceful and civic nature. I made a photo essay entitled “A protest made in Algeria” in which we see this incredible sense of civism that Algerians showed. It was almost a carnival ambiance with kids around. While Algerians, recognized Bouteflika’s achievements after twenty years in office, they were angry about being taken for “half people” and “half citizen.” The desire of former president to run for a fifth bid was the slap that no Algerian was willing to take, enough is enough.

I find your work on Algeria remarkable and you have written a very important document concerning an impending economic crisis that will affect Algeria. Do not you think that to solve Algeria’s economic problem, it would be necessary to start by solving the political problem?

The two are interconnected. The political blockage is alarming because an economic crisis is looming. We are in a country that is energy-dependent, that does not produce anything as 70 percent of what it consumes is imported, we have exchange reserves that melted like snow under the sun and went from $194 billion in 2014 to $72 billion in 2019 and is believed to reach $47 billion in 2020. Inflation is at 5,6 percent, and unemployment is on the rise with 28 percent for men between 15–24-year-old and 20 percent for women. An economic emergency program has to be put in place now before taking structural measures. It is only a matter of time before the political demands of the popular movement turn into economic ones.

The Algerian army, the ANP (National People’s Army), has always had a predominant role in Algeria, due to the country’s history. How do you see the role of the ANP in the future?

This political role is not new for the PNA in Algeria. The army fought French colonialism, liberated Algeria in the 1960s. It is also the army that participated in developing the country in the 1970s, and it is also the army that answered the mass protests of the 1980s and the civil war in the 1990s. Throughout these periods, depending on its disposition and on the situation, the PNA oscillated between direct interventionism and limited withdrawal. Today, the army is no longer an arbiter, but it is a direct player. It is the army that stepped in February and pressured Bouteflika to resign; it is the army that appointed the interim president with a caretaker government and conducted dozens of arrests of Bouteflika’s supporters. Unfortunately, the weakness of the military institution calls for this kind of interventionism. Today, civil-military relationships are being renegotiated in Algeria, but one thing is sure, Algerians will no longer accept the time where some ruling generals used to play the role of kingmakers.

Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen


Who is Dr. Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck?

Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck is a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and the co-director for gender-related work for the program on Civil-Military Relations in Arab States, where her work examines political and extremist violence, radicalization, Islamism, and jihadism with an emphasis on Algeria. She also focuses on the participation of women in jihadist groups. Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck has been a guest speaker on these issues in various conferences and a regular commentator in different Arab and international print and audio-visual media.

Dalia Ghanem was previously an El-Erian fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center. Prior to joining Carnegie in 2013, she was a teaching associate at Williams College in Massachusetts and she also served as a research assistant at the Center for Political Analysis and Regulation at the University of Versailles.

Dalia Ghanem is the author of numerous publications, including most recently: “Obstacles to ISIS Expansion in Algeria” (Cipher Brief, September 2016); “Algeria on the Verge: What Seventeen Years of Bouteflika Have Achieved” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2016); “Why Is AQIM Still a Regional Threat?” (New Arab, March 2016); “The Female Face of Jihadism” (EuroMeSCo Joint Policy, February 2016); “Running Low: Algeria’s Fiscal Challenges and Implications for Stability” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2016); “Women in the Men’s House: The Road to Equality in the Algerian Military” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 2015); and “Despite Shakeups, Algeria’s Security Apparatus Stronger Than Ever” (World Politics Review, September, 2015).

Dalia Ghanem received her PhD, at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France.

Published in American Herald Tribune September 14, 2019:  https://ahtribune.com/interview/3476-dalia-ghanem-yazbeck.html

In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.150919.htm

In Mondialisation.ca: https://www.mondialisation.ca/les-algeriens-sont-descendus-dans-la-rue-le-22-fevrier-parce-quils-en-avaient-assez-du-systeme/5636772