An outspoken free spirit and a columnist for Le Quotidien d’Oran, an Algerian daily, Daoud has long written that his country deserves better than a choice between military dictatorship and Islamists. A former Islamist himself, Daoud, now 48, has been harshly critical of how conservative religious forces in Algeria have tried to suppress individual liberties and the rights of women—views that are progressive at home but that have also won him fans on the right in Europe.
Daoud lives in Oran, Algeria, but was in Paris when we spoke by telephone. I translated our conversation from French and edited it for length and clarity.
Rachel Donadio: What do you think happens next in Algeria?
Kamel Daoud: It’s hard to know what will happen, because for the moment, the regime isn’t doing much and is trying to buy time. But on the other hand, the Algerians are keeping up the pressure. There are still bigger and bigger demonstrations. For now there’s status quo. The regime is going to try to anticipate things by saying they’ll change the government and carry out reforms and start a national dialogue.
But I think this is the usual strategy that dictatorships turn to when they’re forced to. They try to start a dialogue and reforms, which is what I’d call the first phase. That’s what’s happening now in Algeria. I think the regime pushed Algerians’ sense of humiliation too far. We reached a point of electing a photo, which Algerians can’t tolerate.
There’s an even deeper force: demographics. Half of the Algerian population is under 30. The entire regime is old. The people of the regime are all 85 years old, and sooner or later this generational rupture was bound to cause a crisis. I also think that the generation of the decolonizers has come to an end all over Africa, but it arrived quite late in Algeria. And that was going to have consequences sooner or later.
Donadio: So is this moment of transition also important as a sign of how anti-colonialism has become less strong of a force in Algeria?
Daoud: Yes. For several years now, I’ve tried to write about how to get out of the post-colonial mentality. A lot of people reproached me for this—a lot of people in France and in the United States and elsewhere—because post-colonialism has become a comfort. For years, I’ve been writing about how we need to stop using post-colonialism as a complete and total explanation of reality. I think now we’ve reached a sort of political expression that’s very clear: People want to get out of the post-colonial era. They want to be done with that generation.
Hassan Hassan: The Arab winter is coming
Donadio: How is what’s happening in Algeria different from what happened in the Arab Spring in 2011?
Daoud: Because what happened in the Arab Spring in 2011 already happened in Algeria around 1990. In 1988, thousands of young Algerians took to the streets. The army shot on the crowds and killed hundreds of people, and then there was a democratic opening, which the Islamists took advantage of. After that, the military came and took control of everything. So what the rest of the Arab world has been living since 2011, we’ve seen in Algeria since 1988, 1990. That’s why Algeria didn’t follow the wave, because after 1990 we had a very painful civil war and were left on our own, in solitude.