MES Lecture Series with Hugh Roberts

Is Algeria really an exception to the Arab Spring?

Is the West promoting democracy there or inhibiting it?

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MES Lecture Series presents Hugh Roberts, Edward Keller Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History, Tufts University, speaking on “The Algerian exception, the Algerianization of North Africa and the encirclement of Algeria.”


April 10, 2013 | 4:00 PM
Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute
Free and open to the public

Algeria has been perceived and, by many, reproached if not pilloried as an exception to the new regional norm for “failing to have its Arab Spring”. This judgment is premised in part on a particular definition of the “Arab Spring” in terms of regime change as opposed to the original definition in terms of “dignity protests” and, moreover, a conception of regime change that gives clear priority to “leadership ejection” over qualitative constitutional reform. But it is also premised on ignorance or neglect of both what has actually been happening in Algeria over the last 27 months and the degree to which the Algerians’ counter-claim to have “had their Arab Spring” years ago contains a significant measure of truth. It accordingly overlooks the extent to which other states in North Africa, rather than outdistancing Algeria in respect of finally conforming to democratic norms, have actually been catching up with Algeria in terms of introducing and institutionalizing a kind of pluralism that, as a rule, is likely to fall short of a democratic form of government properly so called. At the same time, Western interventions in the region have represented major strategic setbacks for Algeria’s foreign policy and are tending to exacerbate the national security character of the Algerian state. The questions of where Algeria is going and what the purposes of Western policy in the region will prove to be from here on are accordingly deeply intertwined, and much may depend on the choices the US makes.

About the Speaker: Dr Hugh Roberts is the Edward Keller Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University. He is a specialist on North Africa and particularly Algeria whose research and writings have throughout combined the perspectives and methodological approaches of history, political studies and anthropology. He has worked both inside academia, as a lecturer and research fellow, and outside, as an independent scholar and consultant on North African affairs and also as Director of the International Crisis Group’s North Africa Project, based in Cairo, from 2002 to 2007 and again from February to July 2011. He took up his post at Tufts in January 2012.

From 1997 to 2002 he was a Senior Research Fellow of the Development Studies Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Between 1976 and 1997 he lectured in the School of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia, the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley and the Department of History at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London.

Educated in London, Oxford and Aix-en-Provence, he received his D.Phil. from Oxford University in 1980 for a thesis on the Kabyle question in Algeria. He has continued to work on Algeria, visiting the country repeatedly, and has published many articles on Algerian politics and history. He has also worked and published articles and papers on the cooperative movement in Jordan, the Western Sahara question, the Northern Ireland question, the history of Islamism in North Africa and the historical anthropology of Berber society in the Maghrib. As ICG’s North Africa director, he was responsible for a series of reports on ‘Islamism in North Africa’, as well as reports on the Kabyle question in Algeria, the problems of political reform in Egypt and Algeria and the Western Sahara question.

His book, The Battlefield: Algeria 1988-2002. Studies in a broken polity, was published by Verso in 2003. His new books, Berber Government: the Kabyle polity in pre-colonial Algeria, and Algérie-Kabylie: Études et interventions de Hugh Roberts (in French) are to be published in 2013.

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