People and Stories: Foreigners Who Love Algeria Edition

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Watch the full "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" episode on YouTube.
Last night, Algerian television channel El Djazairia One aired a 90-minute edition of its regular Arabic-language talk show "People and Stories" ("Ness w Hyakat - ناس وحكايات") on the theme of "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" ("أجانب يحبون الجزائر").

I joined Magdoulina from Russia, Jérôme from France, Georges the pied noir of Maltese origin, Hirofumi from Japan, and a local sociologist as guests on the show, which we taped several days earlier in a studio outside Algiers. Interspersed throughout the dialogue were short video profiles the producers had previously recorded at our homes, complete with interviews of our friends. (Thank you to my dear friend Mohamed for his kind words about me!)

While the episode's theme might sound innocuous to outsiders, in this peculiar country it proved provocative—just as the show's producers knew it would. How so? Because the suggestion that foreigners could love Algeria, simply and without reserve, conflicts with the traumatized affection that quite a few Algerians feel for their country, which they love out of genuine patriotism but nonetheless seek to flee, propelled by frustration and lack of opportunity. Allow me to explain:

In Tindouf Refugee Camps, Resignation and Frustration Do Battle

Thursday, February 8, 2018 | Tindouf, Algeria (map)

Who could possibly take offense at a McDonald's Happy Meal?

Back in December 2008—a few months into my year-and-a-half stay in Morocco—the country's government was livid when it discovered what toys McDonald's was distributing to kids across the North African kingdom. McDonald's, it turned out, had innocently decided to serve up their local Happy Meals with small plastic maps of Morocco. Just one problem: in Morocco, the map doesn't look like it does anywhere else. Instead, it includes Western Sahara: a vast, sparsely populated expanse of sand and minerals that Morocco vehemently insists constitutes its own "southern provinces"—even if no other country officially recognizes that claim.

The dispute stretches back to—you'll never guess!—the colonial era, when Western Sahara was a Spanish colony. When domestic and international pressures obliged Spain to relinquish the territory in the mid-1970s, Western Sahara fell prey to regional rivalries. Neighboring Morocco and Mauritania swept in, asserting dubious historical claims over the territory. While Mauritania wasn't able to maintain its possession, Morocco made annexation of the Western Sahara its national mission. In 1976, King Hassan II launched the Green March, in which