French TV documentary adds to tensions between Paris and Algiers

France remains torn between the frustration of the Algerian regime and its desire to connect with the organisers of the simmering protest movement.
Thursday 28/05/2020
A cover of the documentary programme "Algeria, mon amour." (France Television)

PARIS/ALGIERS - Algeria has recalled its ambassador to France for "immediate consultations" after the broadcast of a French TV documentary deemed offensive by authorities and denounced by many Algerian viewers as depicting an inaccurate picture of the pro-democracy Hirak movement.

A statement by the Algerian foreign ministry Wednesday complained that public French TV programmes contained "attacks against the Algerian people and its institutions, including the National People's Army."

It was referring to a documentary programme broadcast earlier this week on France 5 and an earlier one on France's Parliamentary Channel.

"This activism, where enmity is combined with rancour, reveals the malicious and lasting intentions of certain circles that do not want the development of peaceful relations between Algeria and France," said the official statement.

The most recent documentary, entitled "Algeria, my love," directed by French-Algerian journalist Mustapha Kessous, was criticised for its harsh portrayal of authorities and sharp criticism of Algerian society, based on interviews with five young men and women.

The Algerian youth's testimonies about their experience with the Hirak street protests, which have jolted Algeria's establishment since last year, were bound to rankle members of the regime, who have been accused of repressive methods and corruption before and after the fall of longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Based on the five long testimonies, the 70-minute film was also accused of putting all of Algerian society on trial and painting a misleading picture of the Hirak.

Scenes of young men and women mingling and consuming alcohol were denounced by many in the largely conservative Algerian society, including supporters of the Hirak

A trending hashtag " #Ce_n_est_pas_mon_Hirak #France_5 " (This is not my Hirak, France 5) reflected the anger of a large segment of Algerian viewers who thought the documentary distorted the true demands of the protesters by focusing on youth's frustration with social taboos.

"Our young people are much more brilliant, more noble in spirit and more committed to their causes than the inane profiles served with a touch of alcohol and a hint of sex, ' said Algerian reporter Hassan Moali. "French media Clichés die hard."

Kessous, nonetheless, defended his work.

"This film steers away from ambient hypocrisy. It dares say things," he told Algeria's El Watan newspaper.

Kessous himself does not hide his political view in favour of the Hirak. "To say that Algeria is subjected to a military and authoritarian rule since 1962 is not a form of bias. It is a factual description," he said. "There is an opportunity today to change Algeria and lead it to democracy."

Beyond the contention over the TV broadcast, Algerian and French authorities are struggling to repair bilateral relations.

Paris remains torn between the Algerian regime's frustration over what it views as a lack of support by France since the transition that brought President Abdelmajid Tebboune to power, and its desire to connect with organisers of the simmering protest movement.

Recent political and judicial measures in Algeria are likely to further complicate matters, as French rights groups press their government to show more support for Algerian activists.

Ibrahim Daouadji, a Hirak movement activist, was released May 18. Others remain behind bars. An Algerian court upheld on Wednesday the detention of an Algerian correspondent for a French TV channel.

The court rejected a bail request from lawyers of Khaled Drareni, who is the founder of the Casbah Tribune website and a correspondent for French-language channel TV5 Monde and press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

He was arrested on March 7 while covering an anti-government protest on charges of "inciting an unarmed gathering and damaging national integrity."

Amnesty has called Drareni's prosecution "outrageous" and accused the government of "arbitrary prosecutions aimed at silencing... activists and journalists" linked to the Hirak protest movement.