Author: drnikkicooper

The Algerian Hirak

HirakSince 22 February 2019 Algerians have been protesting in the streets. As usual there has been very little coverage of events in the British, indeed Western, media. This is, however, one of the most impressive pro-democracy movements the world has seen. It was triggered by President Bouteflika’s decision to stand for a fifth term of office. This flew in the face of the Algerian Constitution, and would have meant that he would have added an extra five year term to the twenty he had already served as Algeria’s longest-serving present. To further breach constitutional matters, Bouteflika had rarely been seen in public since 2013 when he suffered a stroke, and article 102 of the Constitution states that an incapacitated president must stand down. Since his stroke in 2013, perception grew across Algeria that Bouteflika had been a puppet president, with figures from within Bouteflika’s entourage calling the shots.

On 10 February 2019, a press release signed by the long-ailing Bouteflika announcing he would seek a fifth consecutive term provoked widespread discontent. After Friday prayers on 22 February  Algerians took to the streets. This effectively shattered a longstanding fear of protest in Algeria after the Black Decade of the Civil War of the 1990s. Millions of men, women and children took part in peaceful rallies across Algeria, and have been protesting ever since.

The protests, which have been dubbed Algeria’s Hirak, which is Arabic for ‘movement’, took on a broader focus when Bouteflika finally ceded to pressure and resigned in April 2019. Protestors then called for action against the failures of the privileged elite who had supported him, and in doing so had failed public services in Algeria. The protestors  called for widespread reform, and for corruption charges to be brought against the regime’s generals and oligarchs.

Bouteflika’s  long regime had  effectively crushed political dissent and oversaw a proliferation of corruption throughout the state, with oligarchs and the party elite owing their position to the monopoly on oil and other key energy industries. Algeria is one of Africa’s major oil and gas producers, the endemic corruption has led to an overreliance on oil revenues at the expense of the agricultural potential of the country, further adding to discontent on the domestic front. Additional factors including high unemployment, lack of job opportunities, economic stagnation following the decline of oil and gas export revenues in 2014, social inequalities, have led the Algerian population to protest against ‘le pouvoir’ (the people in power. Although forcing Bouteflika’s resignation in April 2019 as a result of the mass protests was a major achievement, the momentum was with the protestors, and the Hirak forced further concessions.


The strength of this Hirak, also known as the ‘Revolution of Smiles’, is that the protestors seem to have learned the lessons of the Arab Spring. Millions of people, both men and women, who mostly young, are participating in the weekly marches, occupying public spaces and peacefully demanding the regime to change. The fact that this is a movement with no official leader, but which is seeking dramatic change through entirely peaceful means, appears to have prevented the emergence of extremist groups, as occurred in Libya and Syria. The movement also has a significant cultural component, and has witnessed the proliferation of creative endeavours: songs, slogans, cartoons, the occupation and collective clean-up of public places, spontaneous dialogues and debates, and very active social media. The abiding cry has been: ‘Yetnahaw Gaa’ / ‘Get them out!’

When finally a new election was called for December 2019, this was largely rejected by the movement, who instead called for a complete overhaul of the political system. As the protests grew louder, the response of the government was to clamp down severely on detractors, and the number of arrests increased significantly.  Protestors are recording increasing internet censorship, and political cartoonists have been arrested and imprisoned. Amnesty International’s ‘Algeria Watch’ reports of around 500 arrested, some arbitrarily, as a result of a sweeping government action against the Hirak. (see

The election went ahead on 12 December 2019, and the result was controversial.  Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a Bouteflika loyalist was elected as President. Protestors chanted ‘The vote is rigged. Your elections are of no concern to us and your president will not govern us.’ One protestor stated: ‘Tebboune is worse than Bouteflika, We did not vote and we will not back down.’ Little news has emerged in the West since the election and the protests which followed. Has the Revolution of Smiles turned sour?



17 October 1961 – We Drown Algerians Here

17 October 1961

In Black History month it is worthwhile underscoring how minority histories have often tended to be overlooked, covered up, or subsumed under majority narratives and ‘official’ memory. At the time of the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, for instance, the press and media all lamented what they claimed was the biggest loss of life on French territory since the Second World War. This was false. What had been overlooked was the murder of hundreds of Algerians in central Paris on the night of 17 October 1961.

It was the height of the war between France and Algeria. The many Algerians living and working in mainland France were increasingly distrusted by the French government, who feared that they were acting as a ‘fifth column, supporting and collecting funds for the FLN (National Liberation Front), the insurgents leading the war for independence from French colonial rule in Algeria. Harsh domestic policing tactics were employed against Algerians living and working legitimately in France, including surveillance, stop and search, and a curfew which saw Algerians homebound between 7pm-6am.

It was a protest against this curfew which sparked the events of 17 October 1961. The Algerian community groups organising the march had emphasised that the protest would be entirely peaceful, and protesters were searched for weapons before they boarded the trains and buses which transported them from the ghettoised peripheries and shantytowns to central Paris.

1961 bus


In 1961, Maurice Papon was the Police Chief in charge of Paris. Papon, who had served as a senior police official for the wartime Vichy regime, and oversaw the deportation of c.1600 French jews to Nazi concentration camps. In 1956 he had also served in Constantine, in Algeria, participating in the repression and torture of Algerian nationalists. Papon’s past clearly did not dispose him to take a lenient approach with colonial subjects protesting on French national territory. However, it is still difficult for historians to establish exactly what precipitated the massacre and on whose orders, for many of the archives related to this incident, and to France’s role and actions in the Algerian war more broadly, are still under wraps.


Around 30,000 marched. By the end of the week 14,000 had been arrested. This fate was far better than many suffered. Police bludgeoned innumerable participants as they exited metro stations. Others were rounded up and taken to the police HQ at St Michel, where, according to eye-witness accounts, Papon ordered their extermination. The bodies of many Algerians were thrown in the Seine.

Evidence of these atrocities was immediately covered up by the Paris police force. Journalists and photojournalists present during these events attest to the fact that they were silenced; that they were threatened; that their copy/photographs/films were confiscated. On the night itself, televised news showed only reassuring images, and the whole incident disappeared from the media by 24 October.

The exact number of deaths is difficult to establish. Some documents and archives have been destroyed, others remain classified. Historian Jean-Luc Einaudi, who has researched the event extensively, and who also challenged Papon in a court case, has suggested that at least 200 were killed on 17 October. British historians House and MacMaster claim that 550 were reported as missing from the shantytowns. At the time, the French government, headed by de Gaulle, with Roger Frey as Interior Minister, admitted only two of the dead. A government inquiry in 1999 concluded 48 drownings on the one night and 142 similar deaths of Algerians in the weeks before and after, 110 of whom were found in the Seine. It also concluded the real toll was almost certainly higher.

The massacre has often been cited by community activists as an example of ‘confiscated memory’:  an event whose existence was denied, the memory of which has been suppressed, and which had long been eliminated from the ‘official’ history of the Franco-Algerian conflict. Activists have sought to reinsert this history into French national memory – some erecting makeshift banners along the banks of the Seine which read: ‘We drown Algerians here’.  It was in response to this sort of call for the suppressed memory to take it rightful place in the history of France and Algeria that prompted Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë to unveil a plaque on the Saint-Michel bridge of the Seine near to the Police HQ, to those who were ‘victims of the bloody repression of the peaceful demonstration of 17 October 1961’. It was not until 51 years after the massacre, in 2012, that then President, François Hollande, made official comment on the matter, recognising that ‘Algerians legitimately demonstrating for their right to independence were killed during a bloody repression’. The passive voice employed in both the plaque and the statement bear witness to the fact that the French state is still far from being able to acknowledge fully its own part in both the massacre and its subsequent erasure from history.






URB@N 2018

Many of you will know about and/or have participated in the History department’s current URB@N project, which has been focused on online interactions within the department. What we wanted to know was how students related online with History both before coming, and during their period of study. Codi Hart (current 2nd year), and Emma Tyler (current 1st year) were recruited to work with lecturers Paul Jackson and Nikki Cooper to gauge student use of social media and online interaction with the department.

On Tuesday 15 May 2018 the URB@N team attended a lunchtime session at the University’s Learning and Teaching Conference where all this year’s participants presented a poster of their research findings.



Codi and Emma’s preliminary analysis of their findings is below


URB@N Analysis: History Students and use of Blogs and Social Media, Codi Hart and Emma Tyler


  • The most used form of the social media by the history students we contacted is Facebook with 92.5% of participants using it. The next 2 most popular social media sites are Snapchat with 56.6% of participates stating they use the platform regularly and Twitter with 54.7%. This was out of the 98.1% of students who highlighted they use social media.
  • Throughout the research process, it was illustrated to us that the issue of how students gain information in regards to the university and the history department itself is an concern of many students. In the questionnaire 73.6% of students stated that they use social media to gain information in general. Many of the history students, who took part in the questionnaire, already use social media to interact with the University of Northampton. Once again, Facebook was the most popular platform (75.5% of students) with Twitter being the second most popular (28.3%). The participants were also asked what this interaction was used for. Of those answers which were applicable, the most common were to gain information and to interact with societies. The responses to the long questions on the questionnaire show that students from all three year groups think that the departments social media should be used to give information.
  • In the focus group with four 2nd years, there was a discussion into similar issues. The general consensus was that the history department social media should be used to give information, rather than try and build a community online. The first years also highlighted that they liked the social media pages shown to them which gave information, especially about things such as events. They also highlighted that this form of social information should be expressed through social media, whereas any subject information about important articles or lecturer’s work should be posted on the blog. The first years also discussed that the experience of past students or employment advice would also be a good addition to the history blog.
  • History Department social media does not just have to be used by current students. Of those who answered the questionnaire, 45% used the University of Northampton Freshers Facebook page. It should be noted this result was affected as 10.1% of students did not know that the page existed. Of those who used the Facebook page, 85% found it useful. This makes clear that social media as a source of information for upcoming students is important and useful. However, upcoming students must be made aware of the page for it be used to its fullest. This is further supported by the 2nd year focus group. It was made clear in the discussion that as this year group did not have the full choice of modules, updates on social media would have made the experience easier for the upcoming students, especially as the course website had not been updated. The focus group indicated that communication between lectures and upcoming students can also be improved using social media, as writing an email to lecturer can be daunting to new students who do not know university protocol or may not want to appear rude. As mentioned in the long answer questions of the focus group, this could also be a way to advertise the course to potential students. There is other advice which could be included on the history blog, or which could be given via social media. One of the first years in the focus group does not live in Britain, and he expressed that a place to ask how life in university in Britain works would have made the move to university much easier and less stressful.
  • An issue with social media is that not everyone uses it. This was highlighted in the data from the questionnaire and also in the 2nd year focus group. In order to get a form of comparison and more information, questionnaire participants were asked about their use of NILE and emails, the standard forms of communication between the history department and students. Of the students asked, just under half (49.1%) check their email more than once of day, with 32% checking them once a day. In contrast, the questionnaire only recorded 28.3% of students checking NILE more than once a day, with 41% of students checking once a day. This highlights an issue, that last minute notices posted on NILE may not be seen by students in time. Even with an email stating that there is a NILE post, it can take hours or a whole day for the email to come through for a student or for them to read it. As suggested in the 2nd year focus group, updates and information should use social media and NILE or emails in tandem in order to reach the entirety of the history cohort.
  • One of the focus’ of the URB@N research project was in relation to student interaction with the history department’s blog. Only 22.6% of students were aware of the blog. However, once they been made aware of it, the majority of students asked stated they would interested in reading the department’s blog. There are a number of decisions to be made in regards to whether the history blog includes work just by members of staff, or includes some work by students too. 37.7% of participates of the questionnaire answered that they would prefer to have both staff and students work on the history blog, with a further 33.9% stating that they would too, if the work was split into a staff section and a student section.
  • With staff, most if not all of the blog posts would be around lecturers, the historical community or their work. The questionnaire asked what sort of posts students would like to see, and there was a mixture of answers, some wanting posts only about lecture topics and some wanting to expand this to other parts of history.


Recommendations for the Department

  1. Ensure that the information available to potential students is accurate on the course page, blog and social media.
  2. Have a department Twitter feed or Facebook page which is controlled by the lecturers, and use this alongside NILE/email when giving announcements and other information.
  3. Create a more informal way of communicating between lecturers and potential students using the blog or social media. Include a system which can allow selected students to answer questions too.
  4. Create a staff section of the blog, where lecturers can post about their research or the historical community in general. Information about the lecture topics should be posted, and a system of deciding what other periods of history to write about should be created.
  5. In the student section of the blog, students should be able to post about their experiences of placements, after university, the transaction process etc. These articles may need to be checked by lecturers, but this needs to be decided after a trial run.
  6. Any decisions made should be advertised and made clear to potential, upcoming and current students.
  7. The department may want to incorporate the history social into the blog or social media, but these talks need to be organised once the new society cabinet has been confirmed this summer.
  8. Important. Change policy in regards to use of students photos on blog posts or on social media. Suggestions on how to implement this include student signed forms given out at the start of the year and more clarity in when photos will be put online.

France and #metoo: #Balance ton Porc (Squeal on your Pig)

The 100 signatories of an open letter published in Le Monde on 8 January 2018 launched a peculiarly Gallic attack on the #metoo movement, and revived the longstanding antagonism between French and Anglo-Saxon feminisms.


In the wake of the Weinstein Affair (and its widespread and continuing repercussions), female  French writers, artists, actresses, journalists, and academics took to task the supporters of what they argue is a current climate of ‘moralist backlash’ and feminist ‘censorship’.  At the heart of the letter lies a rejection of a type of feminism which is viewed as ‘puritanical’, even stalinist, and is marked by its perceived ‘hatred of men’. The signatories deplored the way in which public accusations against well-known men have been amplified  through social media, thereby creating a form of summary justice, in which the accused, like ‘pigs sent to the abattoir’ see their careers and reputations destroyed with no recourse to response or to self-defence.

For many onlookers, the key problematic was amply epitomised by the choice to use the verb ‘importuner’, to headline the letter. The verb has a number of connotations and its meaning is dependent on context; it can be translated as:  to trouble, to bother, to disturb, to pester, to accost, to molest…  In stating,  ‘we defend the freedom to pester [trouble/bother/accost, etc.] which is indispensible to sexual freedom’, the letter argues for the sexual freedom of men to pester or to accost women, to hit on them, to try to pick them up, to chat them up, to touch them. In making this case for the maintenance of ‘sexual freedoms’, the letter distinguishes between what it terms acts of sexual aggression, and other forms of sexual advance deemed less ‘serious’. The signatories came to the defence of the male ‘victims’ whose only ‘wrong’ was to have ‘touched a knee, attempted to steal a kiss, spoken of intimate matters during a professional dinner, or sent messages with sexual connotations to a woman for whom the attraction was not reciprocated.’ Rape is a crime, the letter argued, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or cackhandedly, is not.

Unsurprisingly, the publication of this letter made headlines across the globe, and provoked blistering attacks across social media. Its signatories were variously accused of having internalised misogyny, of being stuck in the 1960s and 1970s, of being rape apologists. The publication Femmes plurielles responded by mirroring and subverting  the original  letter’s headline: We defend the liberty to denounce, which is indispensible to our rights.’

In a letter published a week later in Libération,  one celebrity who had put her name to the letter, actress Catherine Deneuve, issued an apology to victims of sexual attacks: ‘I’m a free woman and I will remain one,’ Deneuve stated; ‘I fraternally salute all women victims of odious acts who may have felt aggrieved by the letter in Le Monde. It is to them, and them alone, that I apologize.’


While Deneuve distanced herself from some of her co-signatories, and in spite of her apology to rape victims, Deneuve remained largely unrepentant in her stance. She expressed her reserves concerning the French equivalent of the #metoo campaign (#balance ton porc – squeal on your pig), and reiterated that while it is legitimate and necessary to speak out against the abuse of power by some men, argued again that the current wave of constant denunciations showed that whistleblowing had  spiralled out of control.

The original letter, and Deneuve’s subsequent interventions articulate once more the longstanding tension between French and Anglo-Saxon versions of feminism. Simone de Beauvoir, mother of French feminism, remained curiously uncomprehending of her transatlantic sisters. Writing in 1947, de Beauvoir pointed to the cultural and sexual divide between the two, observing that ‘American women have only contempt for French women always too happy to please their men and too accepting of their whims.’ Key contemporary  feminist thinker, Elisabeth Badinter, has more recently accused French women of aligning themselves with a ‘victimising’ culture of American feminism. This year’s defence of ‘clumsy flirting’ underscores that difference between French and Anglo-Saxon acceptance of certain sexual mores, and  alerts us to the fact that feminism should not be viewed as a homogeneous school of thought.