Algeria’s offensive against the French language

Nacer Mahfouf is in shock. Wednesday 1er December, this executive of a Social Security fund has just learned of a note from his supervisory ministry: no report, study or correspondence “Other than in the national language” will no longer be accepted. Nacer Mahfouf has always worked in French and does not see himself learning Arabic for the remaining three years of professional activity: “If my manager wants to hire translators, at the expense of the fund, that’s his problem. Me, I continue to work as before. “

TO ANALYSE. Between Paris and Algiers, the site of memorial reconciliation undermined

Emmanuel Macron’s criticisms, on September 30, of the Algerian nation and its harsh regime built on a “Memorial rent” continue to make waves in Algeria. In retaliation, the French language is once again in the crosshairs. It is hunted down wherever it is used in formal relationships.

“The Algerian administration is bilingual. Departments of sovereignty such as justice, defense, or the interior only work in Arabic. The economic and sectoral ministries still favor French in writing ”, details Farid Menacer, communicator and former member of a ministerial cabinet.

Removal of French songs from the radio

“In Bouteflika’s time, cabinet meetings were held in both languages, with each minister preferably speaking in the language in which the document is produced. “ It would all be over. “The note which obliges us to change the language of our documents is confidential, specifies Nacer Mahfouf. It is also the best way not to go to the end of its application, if the holder of the ministerial post changes, or if relations with France are normalized. “ On public radio, French songs have also disappeared. “But no one will tell you that it is a measure against France”, slips Nadia, cultural columnist, who awaits their return on the airwaves.

It is in national education that the measures seem the most restrictive. “The gendarmes went to several schools in the wilaya of Tipaza in November to verify the teachings”, says Hawa, principal of a private school. A majority of private establishments developed in Algeria in the 1990s, in the midst of the civil war, on an offer of French language education that had previously disappeared from public schools.

The government took things in hand in the 2000s, by forcing these schools to teach the Algerian curriculum. “Many private schools have continued to quietly teach French programs in addition to Algerian programs”, Hawa adds.

A new TV channel gives pride of place to French

But what was tolerated is no longer so since the cold snap with Paris. Especially since the Algerian nomenklatura has been targeted in the wake of the presidential remarks. These schools are therefore forced to comply, at the risk of losing their accreditation. The teaching of French, the first foreign language, provided from the 3e year of elementary school, does not seem, him, ” not called into question in today’s storm ”, according to Farid Menacer.

A “specific” approval is also being considered for the creation of media in a foreign language, “Hear in French”. A less important issue than that of the working language in the administration or that of national education, the consumption of media in French has fallen considerably over the past twenty years.

Paradoxically, and in the midst of a campaign against French, Algeria has just launched an international television channel, AL 24 News, which gives pride of place to the French language and whose director, Selim Aggar, edited a French-speaking news site . “It’s to talk to our diaspora”, justifies the ministry of communication.


The place of the French language under debate

Arabic has been the national and official language since 1963 in Algeria. Tamazight (Berber), long rejected, became the national language in 2002 and official in 2016.

The 1991 law imposes the sole use of Arabic and prohibits any ” foreign language “. A 1996 ordinance imposes Arabic for “Exchanges and correspondence from all administrations, companies and associations”.

French is taught in primary and secondary schools. At the university, scientific and medical disciplines are taught in French. But its place is still debated. Algeria has thus refused to join the Francophonie. In 2019, the Minister of Higher Education planned to replace French with English at the university.


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