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date: 25 April 2018

Mass Media in North Africa: From Print to Digital

Summary and Keywords

The emergence, spread, and transformation of media technologies in North Africa has attracted much attention over the past decade. Yet the disruptive effects of technological mass media have been a defining feature of North African modernity from the mid-19th century to the present. Classically distinguished from pre-modern oral and scribal transmissions by “technological reproducibility,” mass media offer capacities both for simultaneous collective address (i.e., broadcast), and for nearly limitless copying (i.e., reproduction) and re-transmission (i.e., sharing). As such, dramatic expansions in mass media, from print journals, or “the press,” to electronic broadcast media of radio and television, small media of audio and video cassettes, and Internet-based and mobile digital media, have sustained modern North African political movements and mass publics, from anticolonial nationalism to postcolonial nation-state building and the 21st-century Arab Spring. Any understanding of contemporary mass media, including digital media, in North Africa must consider how these current media movements reprise and transform earlier forms of political consciousness, community, and protest grounded in a century of new media.

Keywords: mass media, North Africa, mass public, the public sphere, radio and television broadcast, Internet, digital media, social media, mobile technologies

A Century of New Media

Although observers and participants in the Arab Spring placed much emphasis on the new possibilities for communication and protest attending social media, the disruptive effects of new media have in fact marked North African modernity (and African modernity more generally) from the 19th century to the present. Classically distinguished from older media forms by recourse to technological reproducibility,1 mass media may be said to encompass “all those institutions of society which make use of copying technologies to disseminate communication[s] … whose target groups are as yet undetermined.”2 Mass media, which encompass both print and social media, differ from historically prior communications media such as speech, writing, and ritual practice in two key ways: First, grounded in modern commodity production and reproduction, mass media offer capacities for diffuse, multiple, simultaneous collective address (i.e., broadcast). Second, based on technological copying, mass media, especially newer digital media, offer nearly limitless capacities for further reproduction and re-transmission (i.e., sharing). Together, these capacities render the audiences of mass media not only vast, multiple, and heterogeneous, but also impossible to delimit in advance both temporally and spatially. This fundamental indeterminacy explains the extraordinary potency of mass mediated communications, both for political mobilization and for the production of distinctly modern mass publics, that is, large-scale political bodies conscious of their own perduring and large-scale coexistence beyond a particular time and place.3

While key differences in pace and scale, production, and consumption must be acknowledged, mass media North Africa may be said to include not only print journals or the press and electronic broadcast media of radio and television, but also small media of audio and video cassettes, and digital media, including Internet-based and mobile technologies. Woven into large-scale social, political, and economic changes, mass media have been key forces sustaining modern political movements and forming modern publics in North Africa, from anti-colonial protests and emergent national identity, to postcolonial state building and the 21st-century Arab Spring, and Islamic revivalist and Berber identity movements.

Mass Media and Publics in 19th and 20th Century North Africa

While relatively limited in volume and audience, print media and the press emerged among and helped sustain diverse urban cosmopolitan publics in precolonial North Africa. During the colonial period, the press (and, later, radio) were vital to nationalist mobilizing and to forging new national publics or imagined communities, grounded in the awareness that potentially millions of people, while personally unknown, could nevertheless offer mutual recognition.4

The Early Press

Print technologies including lithography and typography were introduced in North Africa in the 19th century through encounters with, and in reformist responses to, European imperialism. A product of expanding French colonial rule, Mediterranean migration and commerce, as well as Ottoman and Moroccan state reforms, an array of multilingual government bulletins and semi-independent journals initially addressed foreign and indigenous state functionaries and literate elites. The earliest North African government journals were the short-lived military journal, L’Estafette d’Alger (Algiers Mail), followed by the Algerian colonial bulletin published in French and Arabic (Moniteur algérien [Algerian Monitor], 1832, and Al-Mubashir [The Herald], 1847) (Figure 1 and Figure 2).

Mass Media in North Africa: From Print to DigitalClick to view larger

Figure 1. Reproduction of Le Moniteur algérien, January 27, 1832. Digital image courtesy of Centre de Documentation Historique sur l’Algérie et l’Afrique du Nord.

Mass Media in North Africa: From Print to DigitalClick to view larger

Figure 2. Reproduction of L’Action du Peuple, November 18, 1933. Digital image courtesy of Centre Mohamed Hassan Ouazzani pour la Démocratie et le Développement Humain.

Inspired by these and Muhammad Ali’s Egypt bulletin, Bey Muhammad al-Sadiq sponsored the publication of Ar-Ra’id al-Tunisi (The Tunisian Leader, 1860), which included the texts of government decrees, as well as news reprinted from journals in other Ottoman provinces. In Tripoli, Ottoman demands for government bulletin prompted the state-run Tarablus al-Gharb (Tripoli, 1866), produced first by lithograph and then, from 1870 onward, by moveable type. From mid-19th century to the early 20th century, the increasingly mobile population of Europeans and Levantine Arabs in North Africa produced a wealth of independent commercial journals in Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, English, and Hebrew. On the cusp of colonization, Tripoli alone hosted more than ten journals (including eight weeklies) in Arabic, Turkish, French, and Hebrew.5

This early era of mass media reflected the globalizing social, political, and economic effects and demands of increasingly centralized state rule and expanding capitalist markets. For Ottoman reformers, official bulletins in the provinces helped secure their distant power by clarifying “the real purport of the acts and commands of the government”; for merchants, the new publications provided key information on increasingly global trade.6 This early era of mass media also charted the modern political, religious, and intellectual currents to which these new conditions were giving rise, with coverage of European colonial machinations, Muslim politics and reformism, scientific and literary developments, as well as copious advertising and faits divers. These publications reflected not only the incorporation of technological media into public life, but also the increasingly shared discourses of modernity among new networks of North African, Levantine, and Turkish educated elites.7 Representative publications include the Young Tunisians’ journal Le Tunisien (The Tunisian, 1907) and the national journal Lisan al-Maghrib (The Voice of Morocco, 1907), published by two Syrian Christian brothers in Tangier.8 Nevertheless, while steeped in new discourses of nationhood, these and other new journals aspired in no way to speak to or educate popular audiences; their cosmopolitan audiences, mobilized by global empire and capitalism, were bound together by commercial interests, religious reformism, and inherited class relations, rather than by incipient nationalist politics.9

Mass Media and Anticolonial Nationalism

Between the two world wars, North African nationalist political parties immersed in modern mass politics increasingly aimed to forge popular nationalist movements. While relying on numerous forms of communication, including telegrams (telegraphy), word-of-mouth, pamphleting, and mass street rallies, North African party leaders found print media a powerful means for mobilizing and representing nascent national publics. While circulation and readership is difficult to gauge, colonial authorities often considered nationalist journals dangerous enough to censor and suspend publication.

In Algeria, a diverse Francophone and Arabic press following WWI gave voice to modernist currents including communism, nationalism, and Islamic reformism.10 An early voice of reform and advocate of electoral politics, Emir Khaled (grandson of the famous anticolonial mujahid, Emir Abd al-Qadir), published a political paper in French, L’Ikdam (Initiative, 1919). Influenced by the French Communist Party in 1926, bilingual students and émigrés formed the anticolonial pan-Maghreb party L’Etoile nord-africaine (North African Star) (ENA), which published several party organs, including the most widely circulated French language El Ouma (The Nation, 1930).11 While limited initially to émigré readers in Europe, copies of this paper nonetheless circulated clandestinely in Algeria’s major cities.12 The mid-1920s through the 1930s also witnessed an expansion of Islamic reformist currents and publications, including the founder of the Association of Algerian Muslim Ulama (1931), Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis’s journals, Al-Muntaqid (The Censor, 1925) and Al-Shihab (The Meteor, 1925), which enjoyed broad North African circulation. The subsequent decades saw the growth of Francophone nationalist press and a relative decline in Arabic press, as well as growing restrictions and suspensions of nationalist platforms altogether. Leftist Ahmed Messali’s (Messali Hadj) new Mouvement pour le Triomphes des Libertés Démocratiques published al-Maghrib al-ʿArabi (The Arab Maghreb, 1947) in both Arabic and French, with the latter garnering a four times greater print volume before its suspension in 1949. The Algerian War (1954–1962) saw the formation of fervent nationalist organs both within and beyond Algeria, including Al-Mujahid (The Fighter, 1956), first published within the urban warzone at the height of the Battle of Algiers.13 During this same period radio transmissions from “La Voix de l’Algérie Combattante” (The Voice of Fighting Algeria, 1956) played an increasing role in nationalist mobilizing.

In Morocco, two wings of the nationalist movement, the liberal faction of Sorbonne graduate Mohammed Hassan Al-Ouazzani and the Islamic reformist faction of Al-Qarawiyyin scholar Allal al-Fassi produced the most significant indigenous publications. In the early 1930s, Al-Ouazzani drew on support from French communists and from Arab nationalist leader Shakib Arslan (whom he served as secretary) to publish Morocco’s first nationalist papers, the Paris-based Maghreb (1932). Prohibited in North Africa, the paper was followed shortly after by the Fez-based L’Action du Peuple (The People’s Action, 1933). In Rabat, an Algerian national working for the French Protectorate in Rabat, Mohammed Al-Salih Missa, published an independent literary journal, Majallat al-Maghrib (Maghreb Magazine, 1932) strongly supporting the Moroccan nationalist cause. Shortly after, two Arabic language nationalist journals (Al-Hayat, 1933, and Al-Salam, 1933) appeared in the northern Spanish zone. L’Action du Peuple, along with offshoots published under Al-Fassi’s direction, addressed young French-educated and Islamic reformist or “neo-Salafi” audiences (Al-Fassi’s term), but also garnered influence well beyond their literate readership. Notably, in 1933 the editorial board of L’Action and other nationalists organized a “Throne Holiday” to honor then Moroccan sultan Sidi Mohammed (Mohammed V), whose portrait adorned the front pages of several editions. Subsequently approved by colonial authorities for supporting their chosen sovereign, this holiday, along with the mass circulation of Sidi Mohammed’s visage, would help establish the ʿAlawi monarch as the primary national symbol during and after colonialism.14

Following a lengthy period of French repression, imprisonment, and exile from the late 1930s to mid-1940s, nationalists around al-Fassi formed Hizb al-Istiqlal (The Independence Party, 1943) and published the Arabic daily, Al-ʿAlam (The Flag, 1946); Al-Ouazzani would subsequently form Hizb al-Shura wa-l-Istiqlal (The Democratic Independence Party, 1946) and publish the daily Al-Ra’i al-ʿAmm (Public Opinion, 1946) Both suffered frequent suspensions until independence in 1956.

In Tunisia, the formation of Hizb al-Dustur (Destour [Constitutional] Party, 1920), and its press organs, La Liberal (The Liberal, 1928) and La Voix du Tunisien (The Voice of Tunisia, 1930), marked the growing influence of young French-educated petty bourgeoisie, who rejected the accommodationist politics and press of the old aristocracy.15 Charismatic nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba’s subsequent calls for independence in the new L’Action Tunisienne (Tunisian Action, 1932) would help consolidate popular opposition to colonialism, but also prompt the Protectorate’s increased restriction and suspension of the Francophone press. Bourguiba’s offshoot party, al-Hizb al-Hurr al-Dusturi al-Jadid (Neo Destour, 1934) established an Arabic press organ, Al-Amal (Action, 1934), prohibited soon after in 1936. During and after WWII, the colonial state, trying to suppress calls for independence, regularly censored Tunisian nationalist journals. In the 1940s, the Neo Destour’s papers al-Kifah (The Battle) and al-Hilal (The Crescent) nevertheless circulated underground, and during brief respites in the 1950s, the party published a well-regarded daily al-Sabah (Morning, 1951) along with special interest journals for workers and students.

Elsewhere in North Africa, nationalist print media remained limited. While the Italian fascist government in Libya effectively censored all indigenous production, exiles and émigrés, in conversation with other Arabophone nationalists including Arab nationalist Shakib Arslan, published pamphlets and journal articles seeking to forge a national community from historically distinct polities.16 Following the colony’s transfer to British and French rule in 1943, proliferating Libyan and provincial nationalist parties produced several journals, most notably, the Umar al-Mukhtar Society’s Al-Watan (The Nation, 1946), featuring demands to the Four Power Commission.17

In Mauritania the first and only nationalist paper, Al-Ittifaq (The Compact, 1948), attached to the party of the future president Mokhtar Ould Daddah, appeared only after the territory’s separation from Senegal in 1946.18 Although socialist in orientation and emphasizing independence, it neither addressed nor cultivated a significant a mass following.19

Mass Publics as “Imagined Communities”: Unity and Exclusion

Adopting distinctly modern political aims and thought, the editors and publishers of nationalist journals actively sought to forge disparate tribal, urban, and linguistic social groups into new modern mass publics conscious of sharing a transcendent national identity and destiny. Paralleling the emergence and endurance of mass-mediated national “imagined communities” worldwide20, colonial-era North African print media were thus crucial forces helping to generate novel identities and collectivities as well as new forms of political hierarchy and exclusion. Both would have critical implications for postcolonial and contemporary mass media in the region.

Two factors shaping the powers of North African media were the limited spread of literacy under colonial rule and the linguistic monopoly of French and Arabic on political and cultural discourses of nation and religion. Regarding literacy, some mitigating factors permitted the circulation of media beyond the bounds of individual readers. As already noted, journals such as the Moroccan L’Action du Peuple made crucial use of photography. In addition, in contrast to private (silent) reading practices developed in Euro-American contexts, public circulation of print media partook of established cultural practices of recitation and listening. In urban spaces, café readings and discussions played a significant mediating role, as did the “newsboy” or crieur.21 As Ami Ayalon has argued, these new media tended to constitute audiences “in the literal sense of the term—a listening, not reading, public.”22

Such practices of listening to cultivate mass publics required more, however, than local public gatherings. Rather, in contrast to the narrower scope and scale of premodern communicative media, the great potency of mass media derived precisely from listeners’ sense of transcendence of local particularity, that is, their imagination of other similar groups listening at the same time within the newly bounded colonial states. Additional key media technologies supplemented print media’s cultivation of novel, large-scale, yet co-present, national communities. In addition to photography, the coordinated use of telegrams (i.e., telegraphy) among disparate groups of nationalists, used to create petitions and voice support for leaders, helped produce the effect of a public speaking simultaneously as a unified “voice.”23 In the later colonial period, radio broadcasts proved especially effective in forging potent feelings of long-distance belonging. As Frantz Fanon famously argued, the establishment of Algerian radio, “La Voix de l’Algérie Combattante” (The Voice of Fighting Algeria), broadcasting from the border region with Morocco, produced a powerful and novel mode of address that worked not by transmitting information but rather by eliciting desires for sheer connection with the imagined community.24 By Fanon’s account, even capturing radio static (due to French scrambling efforts) prompted Algerians’ to “[listen] in on the Revolution” and thus “be at one with the nation in its struggle.”25

If the force of connectivity could outweigh comprehension, it remains nonetheless crucial to consider that the vast majority of colonial-era print media (as well as the new radio broadcasts) reinforced the linguistic capital of educated elites, both old and new. The Arabic print journals, which celebrated the classical tongue and its new literary trends and articulated new doctrines of religious reform, comprised a new modern standard language, sharply divided from the spoken dialectics of the Arabophone masses. Meanwhile, in French-ruled Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, especially, the new French language publications (and to a lesser extent Spanish and Italian) articulated the ambitions and views of colonial élus, the aspirational offspring of established North African bourgeoisie. While this linguistic difference cultivated its own political conflicts, it is equally crucial to note that bilingualism represented a radical simplification of North Africa’s complex linguistic landscape. The rejection of French and the identification of Arabic and Arabism as essential and official grounds of national unity foreclosed (or forestalled) the recognition of claims by multiple ethno-linguistic groups, including vast and diverse Berber peoples, to full and equal national belonging.

Twentieth Century States and Mass Media: From Independence to the Internet

For the post-independence decades of the 20th century, mass media in North Africa remained primarily a state prerogative. Postcolonial governments were cognizant of mass media’s efficacy as a social and political agent of national mobilization; with expanding mass education and rising literacy rates promising yet greater mass political participation, they worked to monopolize the technologies or censor the content of private and independent media. While tightly regulated political party organs and state mouthpieces formed the bulk of indigenous print journals, postcolonial states expanded and monopolized the powerful and more capital-intensive broadcast media of television and radio. Speaking to and for their populations, states used these vital infrastructures for national development and modernization as well as for the authoritarian production of political legitimacy. The late 20th century proliferation of inexpensive satellite dishes and new digital broadcast technologies allowed North African states to expand television and radio offerings. The same period, however, also marked an impending sea change, as new transnational satellite channels, most notably Al Jazeera, began to challenge state media monopolies.

With the establishment of independent Mauritania in 1960, the new state looked to mass media not only to mobilize support for large-scale industrialization, but also to forge a new and unified national public. For a small urban populace, the state-controlled Mauritanian Information Agency (1961), a state newspaper, and after 1984, state television, comprised the limited mass media and messaging.26 Meanwhile, popular programming by Radio Mauritanie (1959) addressed the disparate, largely nomadic rural population, to notable effect (see Mobilizing and Sustaining National Publics). In 1991, following three decades of authoritarian and military rule, Mauritanian constitutional reforms marked the birth of an independent indigenous press—even, by one estimation, the nation’s very “passage from the age of oral information to written information and public debate.”27 Until the turn of the millennium, however, the state maintained control of the country’s major printing facility, with the Ministry of Interior instituting laborious procedures for the evaluation and approval of content, effectively eliminating antigovernment views.28

Independent Morocco inherited much of its media infrastructures from the French Protectorate, with the colonial-era Radio Maroc (1928) transferred to Moroccan control as Radio-télédiffusion marocaine (1961). In 1958, a reformed press code stipulated that print journals be Moroccan-owned, and in 1959, the privately owned Maghreb Arabe Presse news agency was formed.29 The state’s capacity to grant and revoke licenses was strict, however, and print media remained largely confined to pliable parties and the state through the mid-1990s. As elsewhere in North Africa, state control of the new broadcast media produced the most dramatic shifts in the mass media landscape, contributing to the ʿAlawi monarchy’s consolidation of political legitimacy.

In Algeria, postcolonial nation-building included the repurposing of French colonial and revolutionary media outlets for quotidian maintenance of an incipient mass public. The recently formed Algerie Presse Service (1961) was moved from Tunis to Algiers, and the French broadcast media regulatory body was replaced by Radiodiffusion-télévision algérienne (1962). Shortly following independence the celebrated revolutionary-era radio station “Voix de l’Algérie” became the mouthpiece of the newly independent state. Run by Algerian rather than French personnel and, in 1963, placed under the new Ministry of Information, the station was tasked with maintaining the national public it had helped to establish, with expanded channels and programming in Arabic, French, and, to a lesser extent, Berber dialects. The memory of the revolution and its difficult postcolonial containment remained etched in media politics. During subsequent decades Algerian governments expanded television broadcasts with channels in French and Arabic, and sustained a tight grip on print media platforms, at times eliminating all private newspapers as a means of sustaining “effective mobilization behind the goals of the Revolution.”30

In Algeria, the 1990s marked an important transition. The 1991 establishment of the Entreprise Nationale de Télévision and the Établissement Public de Télévision aimed to break state monopolies, especially as satellite television channels and affordable dishes expanded news and entertainment offerings from southern Europe and the Gulf States.31 The violence of the subsequent “Black Decade,” however, while challenging the state’s narrative of revolutionary unity, put severe limitations on these reforms, with Islamists’ censoring efforts mirroring the state’s. While Algeria’s print media intelligentsia suffered under dual threats of government intimidation and Islamist assassinations, satellite broadcast generated novel sources of social contention. Islamists who initially opposed satellite television as a “satanic” vehicle of westernization would subsequently celebrate the technology for transmitting more ostensibly pious programming.32

Like its North African neighbors, the independent Tunisian state looked to print and broadcast media to generate the unified public that nationalism anticipated. In 1963, Radiodiffusion-télévision tunisienne began operating a single state-owned television channel with three hours of programming; coverage spread to the coastal north in 1966, and to the entire nation-state by 1971.33 In a sign of the mass media’s role in promoting not only national unity but also socialist development, the Bourguiba government subsidized the cost of television sets for ordinary Tunisians.34 Through the 1970s and 1980s, despite periodic loosening, the Tunisian state directly owned or controlled official and ruling party organs as well as ostensibly independent private and opposition journals, regulating content and advertising revenue.35 Under Ben Ali, initial reforms gave way to deeper control within the country as well as careful manipulation of Tunisia’s global media image, with ownership of new television and radio channels in the hands of government friends and family.

Following its establishment by the UN in 1951, the new Libyan state provided relatively broad constitutional press freedoms and established a basic radio broadcasting infrastructure. Private independent journals, such as Al-Basha’ir (Good Tidings, 1953) in Benghazi and Al-Liwa’ (The Flag, 1955) in Tripoli, circulated alongside the Ministry of Information and Orientation’s official organs, including the established Tarablus al-Gharb (Tripoli), and the Fazzan Jadid (New Fazzan, 1957).36 It has been argued that the United Nations “created a Libyan state without a strong Libyan nationhood”; press and radio broadcasts, limited to the coastal urban centers, never encompassed the entire territory of Libya’s historically distinct regions.37 Egyptian press and state radio, however, did reach the country, and President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s messages of anti-imperialism and socialist unity broadcast via Radio Cairo’s Voice of the Arabs offered a compelling alternative call to Arab nationalist identity and community.38

Muammar Qaddafi was himself an avid listener to Nasser’s radio addresses, as well as a student of media, having studied military communications in Libya and the United Kingdom. After founding the revolutionary “State of the Masses,” he followed Egypt’s example and placed Libyan broadcast media under the control of his Revolutionary Command Council.39 The Qaddafi government established “Al-Jamahiriya TV” soon after, and in the following decades, the Libyan Jamahiriya General Broadcasting Corporation and the General People’s Committee for the Media used television and radio as powerful propaganda tools (see Mobilizing and Sustaining National Publics).40

Putting print media to work as well, the new Revolutionary Committees published two official daily journals, al-Zahf al-Akhdar (The Green March, 1979) and al-Jamahiriyya (The Libyan Jamahiriyya, 1980). Libya’s most famous of mass media efforts, however, was surely Qaddafi’s three-volume al-Kitab al-Akhdar (The Green Book, 1975), with numerous editions printed by the state’s publishing authority and “Green Book Centers,” and quotes and aphorisms broadcast daily on state television and radio.

Mobilizing and Sustaining National Publics

The most crucial media development of the postcolonial period in North Africa is surely the state development and control of broadcast technologies. Scholars have sometimes attributed state monopolies of television and radio channels to prohibitive capital expenses when compared with the press. But North African states actively maintained their monopolies by withholding licenses for private outlets. A simpler explanation adopted by media theorists points to the informational and ideological monopoly of the public sphere that broadcast media afforded newly independent states, whether in secular or religious matters.41 A further explanation must also be considered, namely the affective and collective power of broadcast media, which a range of postcolonial North African political actors and intellectuals praised or condemned, and which states harnessed to transpose and revalue deeply familiar patterns of language, performance, and community as distinctly national cultures. Far from mere political propaganda, mass media helped forge and sustain national publics through a profound sense of intimacy and belonging even at a distance.

In Mauritania, beginning in around 1960 and continuing for more than a half-century, state radio (Radio mauritanie) aired “al-Balaghat al-shaʿbiya” (short for “Al-Balaghat wa-l-itissalat al-shaʿbiya,” [The People’s Messages and Communications]). Each weeknight a familiar host read messages composed by ordinary Mauritanian listeners to their loved ones. As elsewhere, this version of a call-in program worked to intermingle the most intimate and most general of communications. While undoubtedly personal, the new form of public address mediated by radio also permitted audiences to “overhear” and thus, like Algerian listeners in the war, feel “in on” an affective Mauritanian public sphere.42 Of particular note is the naming of these communiqués (and other widespread ritual practices) as shaʿbi, that is, popular, or of the people. While the medium was new, the formula for greetings and blessings were deeply familiar, building on recognized cultural forms of ritual or artistic performance, as well as Islamic invocations and blessings. Through the new medium, ordinary culture gathered new valued for its association with “the people” as a distinctly modern category of mass national (i.e., mass-mediated) belonging.

Morocco’s 1975 al-Masira al-Khadra (The Green March) exemplifies the state’s power to mobilize the masses’ religious and political loyalties through electronic media for distinctly political, even geopolitical purposes. During a period of tremendous instability in his rule, Hassan II renewed criticisms of European colonialism—specifically, Spain’s occupation of territory in the Sahara. Following the International Court of Justice’s rejection of Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory, the king appeared on state television and radio to appeal to the Moroccan people to reclaim it themselves. Hassan II’s call effectively mobilized 350,000 Moroccans, chosen by quotas from each province of the country, who then amassed on the Saharan border and marched into Spanish colonial territory armed only with the Qur’an, the Moroccan flag, and portraits of the king. In fact, much of the state’s broadcast media infrastructure had been expanded in the prior months to enable Hassan II’s call, and that act and the march it inspired remain the subject of annual memorials and, most recently, a film based on personal accounts of participants.43

In Libya the postcolonial formation of national consciousness and belonging to Qaddafi’s Jamahiriyah (“State of the Masses”) required forms of state intervention and public address that at least temporarily transcended historical geographic divisions. The declaration founding the Jamahiriyah evidently elicited mass public enthusiasm.44 Nevertheless, in the 1970s and 1980s, Qaddafi also used broadcast media to unify through fear, with the hanging of student resistance leaders on Libyan television, and the torture and forced confessions of “counterrevolutionaries” by Qaddafi’s Revolutionary Committees broadcast daily.45 Of course, the Qaddafi government’s use of torture itself constituted a powerful means of coercion. But mass media, and especially television, played a key role by transforming individual pain into public terror.46 It should be noted in particular that, like all mass media, Libyan television could perform this function without necessarily divulging or withholding information. As Pargeter writes, “the surreal was never far away,” with Libyan state television broadcasting footage of a still photograph of combat boots for several hours, or the monotonous view from Qaddafi’s jeep as it traveled for miles along a sub-Saharan dirt road.47

The New Millennium: New Media, Power, and Protest

From the late 1990s through the new millennium, global technological changes as well as economic liberalization decisively reshaped mass media in North Africa. Initial factors included states’ expansion of private television and radio licensing, as well the continued proliferation of global satellite television networks following the Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC) (1991) and Al Jazeera (1996). While private licensing “offered ruling elites a means to expand their power base by accommodating milder critics,” the new satellite channels transmitted cutting political content and bold attacks on entrenched governments.48 These broadcasts, along with hybrid genres of news and entertainment, also provoked political and social debate regarding the limits of public discourse itself.49

Major additional transformations included the spread of the Internet into urban centers and households, the explosion of mobile phone ownership, and the expansion of cellular networks to cover significant portions of every North African nation-state. These trends resulted in exponential growth of private (though not independent) telecommunications, print, and broadcast media channels, vast formal and informal markets in mobile devices, and new spheres and platforms for public discourse and expressions of discontent. Although sometimes defined in stark contrast to mass media, these “new media,” defined largely as mobile and Internet-based platforms, may also be understood as interweaving with and saturating fields of mass-mediated communications, which not only include the broadcast media and print media circulation, but also incorporate everyday practices of talk and rumor.

While the social and cultural effects of new media are open and accelerating in North Africa as elsewhere, the precise nature and degree of their political power remains intensely debated. Fueled in part by new social media and supported by transnational satellite channels, the 2011 Arab Spring appeared to herald a radical destabilizing of postcolonial state monopolies on media and public discourse. Current ongoing protest and social justice movements in North Africa likewise draw significant strength from sharing dissent and critique and consuming images and information not otherwise available in mass public circulation. At the same time, however, new media simplify state efforts of centralized control, censorship, and surveillance. In addition, the profound imbrication of new media and capital means that the prerogatives of profit and the aesthetics of public display value will outweigh (or monetize) the radically democratic possibilities of dissemination.50

In Mauritania in the early 2000s, the Ould Taya government tightened its already strict media controls, censoring opposition press and blocking transnational outlets like Radio France Internationale and Al Jazeera for ostensibly critical political coverage.51 By the 2010s, however, changing media and political regimes resulted in a diverse mass media landscape, with proliferating national radio and television channels and expanding independent electronic and print media. Change began after the 2005 coup, when the government established legal guarantees for press freedoms, as well as a High Authority for the Press and Audiovisual Sector (HAPA), and dispensed with prior vetting requirements. Subsequent print and broadcast media reforms provided for relative expansion of press freedoms, with tens of private independent daily and weekly journals joining the long established Arabic and French-language state journal, Chaab/Al-Shaʿb (The People); in 2011 and 2013 HAPA expanded broadcast licensing to include private entities, ending the half-century monopoly of the postcolonial state on radio and television. As elsewhere in North Africa, conventional broadcast media were joined by digital mobile platforms. Between 2000 and 2015, mobile cellular phone subscriptions rose from 15,000 to over 3.6 million—greater than the country’s total population—and personal computer-based Internet access reached 15.2% of Mauritanians.52 Despite the 2014 arrest and death sentence for a blogger on charges of defamation of the Prophet, and a tendentious 2015 cybercrime law, Mauritania claims the highest World Press Freedom rankings relative to other North African states (in 2017 Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Libya follow in order). It is worth noting, however, that expanding media channels were also perceived by some as a loss: a nostalgic commentator in 2016 lamented the “communications revolution” for the breaching of Mauritanian unity forged specifically by the old Balaghat Shaʿbiya.”

In Morocco, Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne (1999–present) brought high expectations of political and economic liberalization. Indeed, the following decade witnessed the rapid expansion of mobile technologies and Internet access as well as increases in private television, radio, and print media. Between 2002–2005, the state undertook legal reform of press and broadcast media laws, establishing a regulatory body, the Haute Autorité de la Communication Audiovisuelle (HACA, 2002), and expanding press freedoms. During the same period, the state reorganized the public broadcasting corporation (Société Nationale de Radiodiffusion et de Télévision, 2004) and expanded private broadcast media licensing. The creation of the HACA as an independent regulatory body was cautiously deemed “a first for broadcasting in North Africa,” and indeed in the Arab-Muslim world.53 Nevertheless, the state maintained firm control of political media discourses. The expansion of licensing, for example, tended to allow for proven allies of the state to expand radio channels (and to a lesser extent television) without challenging the status quo. Opposition magazines like the French language Tel Quel and Le Journal endured periodic suspensions as well as informal threats of reduced advertising if commentary exceeded unstated limits of criticism of the monarchy or powerful public figures.54

Meanwhile, the new millennium in Morocco witnessed pronounced expansions in Internet access and mobile telephone service: Between 2000–2015, mobile cellular phone subscriptions rose from 2.3 to 43 million, with vast markets for new and second-hand devices; during this same period, urban Internet cafés gave way to affordable household access, and personal computer-based Internet penetration reached 57.1% of the population.55 While this remained low in comparison to the over 90% penetration in some European and Gulf States, it ranked highest in access among African states. As elsewhere in North Africa, the Arab Spring witnessed the use of Internet-based social media to expand spheres of public discourse and facilitate protest (see Mass Media, Culture, and Politics: Islamic Revival, Berber Media, and Ongoing Protests). Yet new technologies also provided new forms of state censorship and control. In 2016, members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism were arrested for promoting citizen journalism via secure smartphone platforms; citizen journalists covering the 2016–2017 social justice Hirak al-Rif (Rif Movement) have also been detained.56

Algeria in the 2000s witnessed substantial growth in print and electronic broadcast media as well as Internet and mobile media platforms. At the same time, the state maintained a distinct approach to media regulation in allowing “‘windows of openness’ to private investment in the press, but tightly seal[ing] television and radio broadcasting.”57 In print, a field of independent, private print publications expanded, its readership vastly exceeding that of state-run press. Meanwhile, transnational and Algeria-specific satellite channels based outside of Algeria brought Arabic-language news outlets and channels marketed to Berber populations, women, and Islamic audiences.58 Media reforms in 2014 established licensing for private broadcast media within Algeria, prompting an increase in local satellite television channels. However, the state maintained legal authority over content and punished private channels for political criticism, including El Watan TV, the suspension of which in mid-October 2015 coincided, ironically enough, with “National Press Day.”59

In the Algerian domain of Internet-enabled and mobile media, cellular telephone subscriptions rose from 86,000 to 43.2 million between 2000 and 2015, and computer-based Internet reached 38.2% of the population. The state has made efforts to expand broadband access, particularly in public schools. This new domain of mass mediated communication demonstrates both new possibilities and new vulnerabilities. Short-lived online TV stations such as El Journane and dzairwebtv have provided satirical news and sports, yet Algérie Télécom controls all online traffic via a centralized Internet gateway, and a broad 2009 cybercrime law has allowed for blocking a range of platforms and content based on national security and public order.60 Internet regulation takes far simpler forms as well, as the state has episodically required public Internet sites (Internet cafés) to collect users’ names and national identification numbers and to permit police surveillance of browsing data. Posts on social media can provoke harassment and imprisonment, as demonstrated by British and Algerian journalist Mohamed Tamalt’s death in detention in 2016.

With the compelling claims attributing the 2011 Jasmine Revolution to online mobilization, Tunisia became the North African standard bearer for Internet and social media’s disruptive and oppositional potential. However, subsequent studies of the revolution were cautious in their findings (see Mass Media, Culture, and Politics: Islamic Revival, Berber Media, and Ongoing Protests), and the broader picture of Tunisia’s 21st century mass media landscape is reflective of regional and global trends. Starting in 2003, the Tunisian state liberalized broadcast media markets by instituting private licensing, yet it relinquished little control over political discourse.61 Two private television channels (Nessma TV and HannibalTV) and ten or so private radio stations joined state television (Wataniya 1 and 2) and radio in the first decade of the 2000s, but the state entrusted these to allies and members of the ruling Ben Ali family.62 Meanwhile, a media governing body, the Agence Tunisienne de Communication Extérieure (ATCE), controlled content via direct surveillance and control of all advertising funding.63

As elsewhere in North Africa, this same period saw rapid developments in Tunisia’s Internet and mobile media: Between 2000 and 2015, mobile phone subscriptions expanded from 119,000 to over 14.6 million, and 48.5% of the population regularly accessed the Internet. The state has kept close watch of these new platforms, with the ATCE and the Agence Tunisienne d’Internet using sophisticated surveillance software to track correspondence and content of opposition figures.64 Nevertheless, at least some Tunisian activists have linked the ubiquity of smartphones to the greater efficacy of the Arab Spring uprising, compared to older protests.65 And the post-Ben Ali transitional government has undertaken extensive reforms of media and press laws. The result has been an expanded state broadcast media sphere, with regional channels and topical stations covering youth and cultural affairs, and licensure for several independent channels, including one affiliated with the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance Party).

Libya’s 21st century political, economic, and technological transformations combined to expand media platforms and accessibility and thus challenge the state’s media monopoly.66 With the rescinding of UN sanctions in 2003 and Libya’s reintegration into global markets, a 90% decline in satellite television costs made transnational channels widely accessible beyond the small audience of Libya’s elites.67 The 2000s also witnessed an expansion of state television, including channels dedicated to Islam (El Hedaya, Guidance, 2008), sports, and education. In 2007, Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam established an independent private channel (Al-Libiya TV), with a youth channel (Al-Shababiya, The Youth) added in 2008. The state continued to police content, however; Al-Libiya TV, for example, surprised audiences by criticizing the Qaddafi government, and was soon suspended for “corrupting the public.”68 Between 2000-2015 online and mobile access increased as well: cellular telephone subscriptions reached 9.9 million, 19.2% of the population had Internet access, with a significant growth in private cyber-cafés as well as public outlets in Libya’s urban centers. While this contributed to new forms of connection and new content, the Qaddafi government maintained central control of Libya’s Internet, suspending service at the height of the February 17 revolution.

The Libyan state’s post-revolution fragmentation has been reflected in the country’s mass media. While Qaddafi’s state broadcasting corporation was bombed by coalition forces during fighting, short-lived satellite television and radio channels soon emerged as mouthpieces for competing government factions, the GNC, the Government of National Accord, and Tobruk-based state as well as the Islamic State. In addition, whereas Libya’s state channels were removed from popular satellite services, new international channels are now available, including Libya Awalan (Libya First, 2011) based in Cairo, and the independent Libya al-Ahrar (Libya for the Free, 2011) based in Doha.69 Online news and information channels like Qanat Libya (Libya Channel, 2016) also began offering live broadcasts of news, sports, and religious programming.

Mass Media, Culture, and Politics: Islamic Revival, Berber Media, and Ongoing Protests

Although Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution attracted significant global attention, North African mass media in the late 20th century and early 21st had already begun to forge new publics and reshape the norms of public discourse. Resulting in part from specific political movements and in part from novel quotidian media practices, mass media in the new millennium are part of broader socio-cultural, linguistic, and religious trends. These trends may be interpreted as forging mass publics akin to the colonial and postcolonial North African nations; yet they must also be understood as responding to the powerful exclusions inherent in postcolonial state media monopolies as well as nationalist emphases on Arabism and statist forms of Islam.

Part of a global movement and transformation, North Africa’s Islamic media reshaped public Islam in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. While much popular attention outside North Africa has focused on extremists’ use of media proselytizing, the more durable changes in mass media concern everyday practices, interpretations, and religious norms as well the growing acceptance of Islamist political parties.70

Fundamental to these are changing sources of authoritative interpretation, from older local networks and state institutions and media to mass-market, transnational media sources. Grounded in broader developments of mass education and expanding print media, in audiocassettes and digital media, and in expanding satellite religious channels, Muslims have adopted shared criticisms of classical practices such as North African Sufism and saint veneration, and have called for more political participation of Islamic parties, such as the Hizb al-ʿAdala wa-l-Tanmiyya (The Justice and Development Party) in Morocco and Ennahda (Renaissance Party) in Tunisia. Still others have explored the personal and political effects of adopting new standards of public comportment and visibility.71 Thus, the expanding audience of Islamic satellite television has been linked to the growing popularity of donning the headscarf.72

Despite disparate aims, these movements tend to share, on the one hand, an egalitarian rejection of inherited religious hierarchies and state claims to moral guidance; on the other hand, these movements depend on and celebrate the enhanced capacity of “ordinary Muslims” to participate in authoritative discourses of public Islam. Framing revivalism as “daʿwa,” or the call to Islam, and addressing anonymous mass publics as often as smaller urban networks, Islamic revivalists have effectively matched egalitarian messages to decentralized forms of communication, notably the so-called small media of audio and videocassettes, as well as audio and video compact discs (VCDs).73 Such technologies, while dependent on mass production, are easily appropriated for informal exchange and dissemination, while also remaining less traceable and less easily censored than social media. North African states have not, however, wholly relinquished authority to transnational media sources and private authorities. Indeed, motivated largely by security concerns linked to the uncontrolled circulation of Islamic revivalist discourses, North African states have worked to recuperate national discourses of religion through their own expanded Islamic television and radio offerings.74

Growing through the 1990s and 2000s, the Berber Cultural Movement in Europe, Algeria, and Morocco represented another key political movement sustained through mass media platforms. Responding to the Arabism of North African nationalists, and grounded in decades of postcolonial leftist and ethno-linguistic activism, the Berber movement gained mass political force through Kabyle student-led protests in April 1980 (the Berber Spring). This was soon sustained through major expansions in the Berber press, with the standardization of orthography (Tifinagh), and through Europe-based Berber language radio. Moroccan and Algerian repression demonstrated these states’ fears of Imazighen mass media; in 1991, an Algerian law mandated the use of Arabic in mass media as well as in public education and private business. Nevertheless, subsequent decades saw significant political reforms along with vast expansion in Imazighen mass media offerings. In the early 2000s, the Algerian government recognized Tamazight as a national language. During this same period, Berber Radio and Television (BRTV) and Radio Amazigh BRTV began broadcasting from France and the state expanded regional Berber radio channels.

In Morocco, in 1994, Hassan II publically pledged to increase recognition of Berber language and culture, including the expansion of mass media offerings. In the new millennium under Mohammed VI, political and media reforms have generally supported this effort, with the introduction of a state Berber language television channel, the inclusion of Tamazight in public schooling, and funds for a Berber research institute.75 In 2011, during the Arab Spring uprisings, Morocco’s constitutional reforms included the recognition of Tamazight as an official language of the state.

Interpretations of mass media’s role in forming and sustaining a Berber public (or multiple Berber publics) tend toward comparitivism, asking how new media forms displace or challenge older ones. For most scholars, broadcast media, especially radio, must be read in distinction from conventional oral communication and from subsequent developments in digital and mobile communications. For Hsain Ilahiane, these latter media “def[ied] the constraints of geography and time,” and thus “allowed Berbers to build imagined and virtual communities and break away from government control of traditional forms of media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and film.”76 For Katherine Hoffman, however, hewing closer to Anderson’s classical reading of nationhood and mass media, radio broadcast already had the effect of delocalizing the space of communication; by connecting listeners with speakers whom one could never meet, radio encouraged “an ongoing shift in the basis of Ashelhi [Berber] identity from one rooted in a specific place (and the social relations that that implied) to an identity grounded in the decentralized practice of speaking Tashelhit.”77 Mass-mediated speech acts may take place almost anywhere, permitting listeners to imagine themselves among a simultaneously present and distant audience—a mass public. As Hoffman also noted, Berber radio in Morocco “bore the government’s stamp of approval,” thus permitting this public to participate in, without subverting, the state’s monopoly on discourse.78 Ultimately the two arguments are mutually supportive: Hoffman, like Fanon reading Algerian radio, focused on medium and the formation of a mass public or “imagined community,” while Ilahiane emphasized the novel content the new medium made possible.

While not all North African states experienced Arab Spring revolutions, other organizations and identity groups like the 2011 February 20th Movement and the 2016–2017 Rif Movement in Morocco generated mass publics through a mix of Internet, mobile media platforms, and national television coverage. In 2011, Moroccan democracy activists and opposition Islamists used Twitter, YouTube, and Google mapping to organize and report on street protests. Unlike Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, the February 20th movement did not call for the “fall of the regime,” but rather for an end to Morocco’s “deep state” (the Makhzen) and the king’s official sacrality, based on cultural history as well as on Article 19 of Morocco’s constitution. As suggested by a Moroccan political cartoon by Khalid Gueddar, in which a Facebook-themed blue and white banner displaying “February 20th” confronts a television screen displaying “Article 19,” the different media represented the opposing sides. The image of the television as the medium of the monarchy (specifically, the constitutional sacrality of the king), versus Facebook as the medium of protest, simplifies and places on equal footing two media forms that are far from coeval in terms of resources and political power. Nevertheless, it is a telling image that summarizes the promise of social media felt by many at the height of the Arab Spring.

Media coverage of more recent protests in Morocco, the Hirak al-Rif (Rif Movement), suggests that national television continues to work in opposition to the social media-rich protests. Following the October 2016 death of Mouhsine Fikri, a fishseller in the northern Rif city of Al-Hoceima, Berber and other activists mobilized protestors with online platforms like Facebook and YouTube, as well as WhatsApp and Twitter. Building on historic grievances against the Moroccan state, on Berber identity claims, and on heroic historical figures of resistance like colonial-era Abdelkrim Al-Khattabi, protestors posted online videos of Fikri’s death and called for national protests for social justice and against government corruption and maltreatment. While the private, relatively independent press emphasized the movement’s peaceful nationalist demands and criticized local and national political bodies for failing to meet them, Morocco’s state television corporation (SNRT) was accused by opposition members of parliament of sowing disinformation, specifically airing video of violent soccer hooligans labeled as Rif protestors.79

Discussion of the Literature

Mass media studies of North Africa must often grapple with the doubly seductive claims of absolute historical novelty and new media utopianism. Most notably, of course, the 2010–2011 Arab Spring revolutions and protests in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, and elsewhere gave rise to popular claims of a “Facebook revolution” or “Twitter revolution.”80 Subsequent commentary and scholarly research was more cautious than celebratory; additional studies and commentaries pointed to the role of multiple media platforms and social institutions (labor unions, in particular), as well as to the risks of relying on new media to sustain political unity.81 Yet, while new media utopianism faces real challenges at the moment, hope springs eternal, especially as historical amnesia remains a crucial problem.

In a highly suggestive comment on the Arab Spring, Lisa Anderson questioned the novelty of social media’s political effects, finding explicit historical precedents in the telegraph and print media activism of earlier colonial era nationalist uprisings.82 While Anderson’s argument in fact aimed to downplay the role of media, other media scholars attuned to the longer history of mass media and politics (in North Africa as elsewhere) have identified the unpredictable force of earlier “new” media technologies—from nationalist journals to the use of radio and television by postcolonial states. The most significant result of these new media has undoubtedly been to forge communities of new and massive scope and scale—that is, nations.83

As should be clear, this approach implies comparativism—not so much between geographic sites as between media worlds. For many scholars, print and broadcast media, which transformed a world built around oral, scribal, and mnemonic technologies, now finds itself challenged by developments in digital and mobile communications. This approach thus raises especially difficult questions of whether waves of new media displace, overturn, enhance, or extend those media already in place, along with the politics and cultural worlds they support.

Ignoring these questions, new media utopianism often returns in the form of simple evolutionism. As famously argued by Daniel Lerner, mass media were expected to modernize by severing Middle Eastern populations from their traditional, religious pasts.84 Subsequent scholarship in North Africa pointed less to mass media’s displacement of religion than to its refiguring of authority and piety based on new conditions of mass education and mass-mediated public life.85 Nevertheless, the supposed relationship between mass media and modernization (often focused on “Arab media,” i.e., Arabic language media) has remained dominant, though under new terms of democratization and the development of a liberal public sphere.86 In this reading, the new transnational satellite media, typified by Al Jazeera, challenged authoritarian governments and promoted liberal democratization, which, like modernization before it, was defined by authoritative Western models. Any failure of Arab states and societies to accommodate transnational media and public discourse would signal their broader incapacity to match these putatively universal standards of development.

Analyses of the Arab Spring incorporated the newer new media into this theory; indeed, use of mobile and Internet-based social platforms during the uprisings, to facilitate national and global communication, seemed at first to vindicate a universalizing theory linking liberal media with efflorescent democracy. That the Arab Spring protests did not ultimately inaugurate an age of North African liberal democracy has only begun to be addressed.87

In the meantime, media theorists have begun to question the newness of new media, proposing less the oppositions of old and new media than their novel convergence and coordination. H. Habibul Haque Khondker, citing media and network theorist Manuel Castells goes so far as to suggest that “the debate over the competing role of the conventional media versus new media has been a false debate.”88 For Sean Aday and colleagues, writing on the Arab uprisings in and beyond North Africa, the putative opposition between so-called new and old media is not supported by data; rather, “the new media must be understood as part of a wider information arena in which new and old media form complex interrelationships.” Aday et al. continue: “The hundreds of thousands of people who made the Egyptian revolution by coming into the streets on January 25, 2011, did not learn about it through Twitter or Facebook. They saw it on Al-Jazeera, or out their windows.”89 Building on his earlier theory of “hypermedia events,” Marwan Kraidy argues that the body is itself a primordial medium—the “indispensible political medium”—made newly potent by interweaving with technological media.90

By way of a conclusion, we may say that what is “new” about digital and mobile technologies in North Africa, as elsewhere, is less their absolute novelty than the unexpected results of their interactions with older media structures and practices.91 What mass media share—whether print, broadcast, or social media—is the transformative force of multiplicity, the proliferation of connections.92 We can thus recall that earlier 20th century North African nationalists who drew on print journals, mass street protests, and more, did not merely add more people into politics, but rather summoned a new collective form altogether: the crowds were no longer commoners but the people, the embodiment of the nation. Surely, colonial administrators seeking to control 20th century nationalist protests would have recognized the assessment of scholars in the 2010s that, with the new media of their age, “witnesses were everywhere and alternative narratives were abundant.”93 That the contemporary multiplicity of media and messages could coalesce, even temporarily, into collective action and demands in the name of North African peoples and nations—“The people demand the fall of the regime!”—confirms the very relevance of those older mass media by which national communities were first imagined.

And yet, while the Arab Spring protests reactivated older mass-mediated national publics, future media developments in North Africa will no doubt spawn unforeseen, and unforeseeable, political collectives with unexpected historical and cultural precedents.

Primary Sources

Because a capacious definition of mass media encompasses a broad range of new technological and political infrastructures, social institutions, and cultural practices, the range of primary sources for studying mass media is broad. In particular, from the mid-20th century onward, as mass media became an unavoidable feature of everyday life across vast swaths of North Africa, its traces are detectable as much within the intimate spheres of family, body, and private ritual as they are in public matters of politics, law, education, and religion. For this reason media researchers must consider not only the state and diplomatic archives, but also personal and commercial archives and online sources.

For 19th and early 20th century mass media sources, researchers may investigate national archives and libraries. These include the Bibliothèque nationale de France (including its digital archives, Gallica) and Turkey’s *Ottoman Archives, as well as the archives of several European states including Spain, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany, which all vied for influence and investment in19th-century North Africa. Within North Africa, the quality and physical and online accessibility of national libraries and archives vary tremendously. The most accessible print and visual media archives are the national libraries of Tunisia and Morocco, the latter of which includes the Digital Library of Morocco.94

For print and broadcast media of late colonial and postcolonial periods, researchers should consider state as well as private and commercial resources. Archived print journals may be accessible through the publishers or the states’ press agencies as well as in national libraries.95 Although dependent on the sensitivity of the precise topic, researchers can generally access records of broadcast programming along with video and audio recordings in state television and radio corporations.96 In addition, scholars should not overlook the vast archive of visual media freely available online through video upload sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.

Contemporary media research must always consider private and commercial sources, the current platforms for which are widely known but subject to new competition and state censorship, as well as to perpetually shifting trends of consumer use. Statistical data on digital and mobile use and penetration can be found through the online sources of the International Telecommunication Union and the World Bank.97 Press freedoms in North Africa can be assessed through materials published by Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House.

Further Reading

Aday, Sean, Henry Farrel, Marc Lynch, John Sides, and Deen Freelon. “Blogs and Bullets II: New Media and Conflict after the Arab Spring.” Peaceworks, Report no. 80, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2012.Find this resource:

Ayalon, Ami. The Press in the Arab Middle East, A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Eickelman, Dale F., and Jon W. Anderson, eds. New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Fahmy, Ziad. Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Fanon, Frantz. “This Is the Voice of Algeria.” In A Dying Colonialism, 69–98. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove Press, 1965.Find this resource:

Guaaybess, Tourya, ed. National Broadcasting and State Policy in Arab Countries. New York: Palgrave Mcmillan, 2013.Find this resource:

Hirschkind, Charles. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Howard, Philip N., Aiden Duffy, Deen Freelon, Muzammil Hussain, Wil Mari, and Marwa Mazaid. “Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media during the Arab Spring?” Project on Information Technologies and Political Islam, 2011.

Kraidy, Marwan M. The Naked Blogger of Cairo: Creative Insurgency in the Arab World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Lewis, B., Ch. Pellat, Ed., P. M. Holt, K. Hitti, Philip H. Massé, Vedad Günyol, A. J. Mango, et al. “Ḏj̲arīda,” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1960.Find this resource:

Lynch, Marc. Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Millie, Julian. “Daʿwa, modern practices.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 3d ed. Edited by Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, and Everett Rowson. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2017.Find this resource:

Rugh, William A. Arab Mass Media: Newspapers, Radio, and Television in Arab Politics. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.Find this resource:

Souriau-Hoebrechts, Christiane. La Presse Maghrebine: Libye, Tunisie, Maroc, Algérie. Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1975.Find this resource:

Spadola, Emilio. The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists, and Mass Mediation in Urban Morocco. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Zayani, Mohamed, ed. The Al Jazeera Phenomenon: Critical Perspectives on New Arab Media. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2005.Find this resource:

Zayani, Mohamed, and Mirgani, Suzi, eds. Bullets and Bulletins: Media and Politics in the Wake of the Arab Uprisings. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016.Find this resource:


(1.) Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility [First Version],” Grey Room 39 (Spring 2010): 11–38.

(2.) Niklas Luhmann, The Reality of the Mass Media, trans. Kathleen Cross (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), 2.

(3.) Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002); and Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1989).

(4.) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, (London: Verso, 2006).

(5.) Christiane Souriau-Hoebrechts, La Presse Maghrébine: Libye, Tunisie, Maroc, Algérie (Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1975), 32–33.

(6.) Cited in Ami Ayalon, The Press in the Arab Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 23.

(7.) James L. Gelvin and Nile Green, Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014); and Julia Ann Clancy-Smith, Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

(8.) Souriau-Hoebrechts, La Presse Maghrébine, 40, 45.

(9.) In contrast, early mass media in late 19th century Egypt was already forging a national public. Ziad Fahmy, Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011).

(10.) Philipp Zessin, “Presse et journalistes ‘indigènes’ en Algérie coloniale (années 1890–années 1950),” Le Mouvement Social 236, no. 3 (2011), 35–46.

(11.) Benjamin Stora, “La Presse maghrébine dans les luttes d’indépendance,” in Presse et mémoire: France des étrangers, France des libertés (Paris: Editions de l’Atelier, 1990), 108–112, 110.

(12.) Stora, “La Presse Maghrébine,” 111.

(13.) Souriau-Hoebrechts, La Presse Maghrébine, 82–85.

(14.) Emilio Spadola, The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists, and Mass Mediation in Urban Morocco (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2014), 41–43. ʿEid al- ʿArsh remains a major holiday in contemporary Morocco, occasioning an annual televised address by the king.

(15.) Souriau-Hoebrechts, La Presse Maghrébine, 60–61.

(16.) Anna Baldinetti, The Origins of the Libyan Nation: Colonial Legacy, Exile and the Emergence of a New Nation-State (London: Routledge, 2010).

(17.) Majid Khadduri, Modern Libya: A Study in Political Development (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1963) 84–88, 25; and Baldinetti, The Origins of the Libyan Nation, 123.

(18.) Anthony G. Pazzanita, Historical Dictionary of Mauritania. Historical Dictionaries of Africa. Vol. 110. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 363.

(19.) Robert E. Handloff, ed. Mauritania: A Country Study (Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1990), 109.

(20.) Anderson, Imagined Communities, “Introduction.”

(21.) Mary Dewhurst Lewis, Divided Rule: Sovereignty and Empire in French Tunisia, 1881–1938 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 151.

(22.) Ayalon, The Press, 154.

(23.) Lewis, Divided Rule, 148; 254n.102

(24.) Frantz Fanon, “This Is the Voice of Algeria,” in A Dying Colonialism, trans. Haakon Chevalier (New York: Grove Press, 1965), 69–97, 93.

(25.) Fanon, “This Is the Voice of Algeria,” 86.

(26.) Handloff, ed. Mauritania: A Country Study, 109; and Pazzanita, Historical Dictionary of Mauritania 124.

(27.) Christian Roques, “Essor et difficultés d’une presse indépendante en Mauritanie (juillet 1991–juillet 1992),” Revue du Monde musulman et de la Méditerranée 63, no. 1 (1992): 245–255, 246.

(28.) Pazzanita, Historical Dictionary of Mauritania.

(29.) Legal stipulations notwithstanding, several Protectorate-era journals that supported the Moroccan government remained in French hands until 1971. William A. Rugh, Arab Mass Media: Newspapers, Radio, and Television in Arab Politics (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004), 111.

(30.) Cited in Rugh, Arab Mass Media, 144.

(31.) Belkacem Mostefaoui, “Algerian Public Authorities in the Face of Transnational Media Competition: Between Status Quo and Deregulation,” in National Broadcasting and State Policy in Arab Countries, ed. Tourya Guaaybess (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 166–186, 172.

(32.) Ratiba Hadj-Moussa, “Singularité, vie en commun et télévision par satellite en Algérie (Uniqueness, Living Together and Satellite Television in Algeria),” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 46, no. 182 (2006): 389–416, 393.

(33.) Kenneth J. Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia, 2d ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 184.

(34.) Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia, 183.

(35.) Fatima El-Issawi, “Arab Transitional Media: A Comparative Analysis of Tunisian, Libyan, and Egyptian Traditional Media Industries,” in Bullets and Bulletins: Media and Politics in the Wake of the Arab Uprisings, Mohamed Zayani & Suzi Mirgani, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 45–69.

(36.) Souriau-Hoebrechts, La Presse Maghrébine, 100.

(37.) Ronald Bruce St. John, Libya: Continuity and Change (New York: Routledge, 2015), 45.

(38.) Mansour O. El-Kikhia, Libya’s Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1997), 38.

(39.) St. John, Libya, 138; and Carola Richter, “Libyan Broadcasting under al-Qadhafi: The Politics of Pseudo-Liberalization,” in National Broadcasting and State Policy in Arab Countries, ed. Tourya Guaaybess (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 150–164, 152.

(40.) Mokhtar El-Areshi, News Consumption in Libya: A Study of University Students (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2013), 28–29.

(41.) Dale F. Eickelman and Jon W. Anderson, eds., New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere, 2d ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003); Marwan M. Kraidy, Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Marc Lynch, Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006); Naomi Sakr, Arab Television Today (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007); Philip M. Seib, The Al Jazeera Effect: How the New Global Media Are Reshaping World Politics (Washington, DC: Potomac, 2008); and Mohamed Zayani, ed. The Al Jazeera Phenomenon: Critical Perspectives on New Arab Media (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2005).

(42.) James T. Siegel, Fetish, Recognition, Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 36–37.

(43.) Spadola, The Calls of Islam, 56–57; and Youssef Britel, dir., Al-Massira: La Marche Verte (Morocco: Entourage, 2016).

(44.) Alison Pargeter, Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi (Yale University Press, 2012), 93.

(45.) Pargeter, Libya, 94–95, 102;and El-Kikhia, Libya’s Qaddafi, 104.

(46.) El-Kikhia, Libya’s Qaddafi, 104.

(47.) Pargeter, Libya, 100–101.

(48.) Marc Lynch, Voices of the New Arab Public, 2006; Naomi Sakr, Arab Television Today, 46–47; Philip M. Seib, The Al Jazeera Effect; and Mohamed Zayani, ed. The Al Jazeera Phenomenon.

(49.) Marwan M. Kraidy, Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

(50.) Rosalind C. Morris, “Theses on the New Öffentlichkeit,” The Grey Room 51, (Spring 2013): 94–111.

(51.) Pazzanita, Mauritania, 366.

(52.) See all mobile cellular telephone and Internet access figures, UN International Telecommunication Union, Geneva, Switzerland.

(53.) Aârab Issiali, “Liberalization of the Moroccan Broadcasting Sector: Breakthroughs and Limitations,” in National Broadcasting and State Policy in Arab Countries, ed. Tourya Guaaybess (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 131–149, 134.

(54.) “Freedom of the Press Report 2016: Morocco,” Freedom House, Washington, DC.

(55.) Hsain Ilahiane and John Sherry, “Economic and Social Effects of Mobile Phone Use in Morocco,” Ethnology 48, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 85–98.

(57.) Mostefaoui, “Algerian Public Authorities,” 166.

(58.) Mostefaoui, “Algerian Public Authorities,” 176–178.

(60.) Mostefaoui, “Algerian Public Authorities,” 182–184.

(61.) Sakr, Arab Television Today, 26–27.

(62.) Joan Barata, “Tunisian Media under the Authoritarian Structure of Ben Ali’s Regime and After,” in National Broadcasting and State Policy in Arab Countries, ed. Tourya Guaaybess (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 117–130, 120.

(63.) Barata, “Tunisian Media,” 121.

(64.) Barata, “Tunisian Media,” 121.

(65.) Sherry Lowrance, “Was the Revolution Tweeted? Social Media and the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia,” Digest of Middle East Studies 25, no. 1 (2016): 155–176. Lowrance quotes an experienced Tunisian activist to argue that, while other mass protests preceded the revolution, cellular phones and social media placed these events in greater and broader circulation: “‘The difference between Gafsa 2008 [site of mining company protests] and Sidi Bouzid 2010 is as simple as everyone had a smartphone.’” Nevertheless, the author concludes that at the height of the uprising “Phone calls, texts, printed information, and word of mouth still played important roles in mobilizing large-scale protest.” (p. 166). On media convergences, see the section “Discussion of the Literature.”

(66.) Carola Richter, “Libyan Broadcasting under al-Qadhafi,” 155–158.

(67.) Elareshi, News Consumption in Libya, 30.

(68.) Elareshi, News Consumption in Libya, 33.

(69.) Carola Richter, “Libyan Broadcasting under al-Qadhafi,” 160–161.

(70.) Eickelman and Anderson, New Media in the Muslim World; Spadola, The Calls of Islam; and Avi Max Spiegel, Young Islam: The New Politics Of Religion in Morocco and the Arab World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015).

(71.) Eickelman and Anderson, New Media in the Muslim World; and Spadola, The Calls of Islam, 127–129.

(72.) Maryam Ben Salem and François Gauthier, “Téléprédication et port du voile en Tunisie,” Social Compass 58, no. 3 (2011): 323–330.

(73.) Spadola, The Calls of Islam, “Introduction.” On similar movements in Egypt, see Charles Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).

(74.) Spadola, The Calls of Islam.

(75.) David L. Crawford and Paul Silverstein, “Amazigh Activism and the Moroccan State,” in The Middle East Report, No. 233 (2004), 44–48.

(76.) Hsain Ilahiane, Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 145.

(77.) Katherine E. Hoffman, We Share Walls: Language, Land, and Gender in Berber Morocco (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 197. Original emphasis.

(78.) Hoffman, We Share Walls, 197

(79.) Kenza Filali, “Al Hoceima: Images trompeuses, la SNRT s’enfonce dans le déni, Le Desk Online, May 31, 2017. (Al Hoceima: Fake Images, and the SNRT Sinks into Denial).

(80.) Philip N. Howard, Aiden Duffy, Deen Freelon, Muzammil Hussain, Wil Mari, and Marwa Mazaid, “Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media during the Arab Spring?” Project on Information Technologies and Political Islam, 2011; and Zayani and Mirgani, Bullets and Bulletins.

(81.) As Marc Lynch argued, “Media organs that had proved crucial to the uprisings degenerated with dismaying rapidity into highly partisan platforms serving state authorities or political factions.” Marc Lynch, “How the Media Trashed the Transitions,” Journal of Democracy 26, no. 4 (2015): 90–99, 90. See also Sean Aday, Henry Farrell, Marc Lynch, John Sides, and Deen Freelon, “Blogs and Bullets II: New Media and Conflict after the Arab Spring,” Peaceworks, No. 80 (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2012); and Zeynep Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017).

(82.) Lisa Anderson, “Demystifying the Arab Spring: Parsing the Differences between Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 3 (May/June, 2011): 2–7, 2.

(83.) Lewis, Divided Rule, 148–151.

(84.) Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1958).

(85.) Eickelman and Anderson, New Media. Other scholarship addressing North Africa or relevant to North Africa questions mass media’s presumed generation of liberal public spheres and liberal democracy, see Armando Salvatore, The Public Sphere: Liberal Modernity, Catholicism, Islam (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Armando Salvatore, “New Media, the ‘Arab Spring,’ and the Metamorphosis of the Public Sphere: Beyond Western Assumptions on Collective Agency and Democratic Politics,” Constellations 20, no. 3 (2013): 217–228; and Charles Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape.

(86.) See for example, Lynch, Voices of the New Arab Public.

(87.) Lynch, “How the Media Trashed the Transitions.”

(88.) Habibul Haque Khondker, “Role of the New Media in the Arab Spring,” Globalizations, 8, no. 5 (October 2011): 675–679, 678.

(89.) Aday et al., “Blogs and Bullets II,” 3–4.

(90.) Kraidy, Reality Television, 187; and Marwan M. Kraidy, The Naked Blogger of Cairo: Creative Insurgency in the Arab World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

(91.) Charles Hirschkind, Maria José A. de Abreu, and Carlo Caduff, “New Media, New Publics? An Introduction to Supplement 15,” Current Anthropology 58, no. S15 (2017): S3–S12.

(92.) It was not by coincidence that French colonials derisively characterized urban word-of-mouth in North Africa as “radio medina” or “Arab telephone.” On repeatability and proliferation of mass-mediated connections as a political threat, see Emilio Spadola, The Calls of Islam, “Introduction.” On repeatability as a condition of language in general, see Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” in Margins of Philosophy, tr. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 307–330.

(93.) Zayani and Mirgani, Bullets and Bulletins, 3.

(94.) See France’s Bibliothèque nationale de France (including its digital archives, Gallica) and Turkey’s National Library and General Directorate of State Archives. See also the National Library of the Kingdom of Morocco (al-maktaba al-wataniyya li-l-mamlaka al-maghribiyya) and the National Library of Tunisia (al-maktaba al-wataniyya al-tunisiyya). The national libraries of Mauritania, Algeria, and Libya have minimal online presence.