A Different Eye on the Revolt in North Africa

My knee injury has imposed its quiet regimented routine. Instead of a daily hour at the gym, twice a day I do a series of exercises designed to regain knee mobility. In addition, up to six times a day I ice my knee to decrease the swelling.
As exciting as it looks, this rather sedentary life allows me permanent access to my number one addiction: reading.
Since I have now read every unread book I could put my hands on, I’ve started to read every American and French newspaper I can find online.

For the last weeks, their headlines are similar. All are related to the protests that shake the Middle East and North Africa.
What is very different though is the treatment of information, whether the newspaper is American or French.

Here, in the USA, we embrace with no reserve the sudden revolt against autocracy and the legitimate people’s fight to obtain democracy. After all, the USA rhymes with democracy. President Obama is now busy negotiating with Egypt which had, until now, acted as a peace keeper in the Middle East.
In France, the coverage of the wave of protests is slightly different. Although the French and its government applaud democracy as much as Americans do, they are concerned with the consequences of turmoil, especially in Algeria and Tunisia, two former French colonies who won their independence in the late 50s for Tunisia and early 60s for Algeria.

Last week, Lampedusa, a small Italian island located mid-way between Tunisia and Sicily, saw thousands of clandestine Tunisians flooding its streets. These immigrants are all unemployed men between 20 and 30 years old, hoping to find a job in a continent already dealing with high unemployment.
They left Tunisia after the fall of Ben Ali last month to seek new opportunities. Often paying for their journey, they hid aboard ships. They’ve heard of work in Germany and France and hope that Europe will welcome them with a job. Used to police violence, they praise the Italian police for their kindness. Italy and Tunisia are working together to stop this flow of clandestine immigrants.
It is impossible to ignore the hardship of North Africa, and Europe has certainly contributed to its unsuccessful economic growth but it is also unrealistic to believe that Italy, Spain, France, and even Germany can absorb a new wave of immigration.

France has always praised itself for being a land of acceptance and welcoming policy. Yet if more people decide to leave their homeland for Europe, France would rather not be their number one destination. Even the liberal paper Liberation talks of the French malaise when it comes to deal with the recent revolts in the Arab world and its consequences.

In the early 70s, my little town in Normandy was challenged by the arrival of North Africans. It was unusual to see people moving in, so locals quickly complained about the new immigrants. The assimilation of the young Algerians or Tunisians went well in my school. We were mostly curious and soon we all played soccer and tag together. The adults, on the other hand, had a harder time to accept the new comers who arrived with foreign customs and ignored the French lifestyle rules.

Forty years later, the entire world is turned toward the changing Arab world. Depending where you live the media coverage is different but the outcome will also definitely be very different.

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