As I watch what is happening in the Middle East and the people’s efforts to change their governments, I think back to the trip to Algeria that I took two summers ago.
I was asked to travel to Algeria by the National Conference of State Legislatures to help present a workshop on improving legislative effectiveness to the Algerian parliament.
The invitation to join the team with three other legislators from around the U.S. came as an exciting surprise to me, but it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to experience a North African country and government that I knew little about. As state legislators, we’re viewed as having a closer tie to the people than U.S. federal legislators which led to our team being assembled. I agreed to join the week long trip.
Algeria’s a neighbor to the countries of Tunisia and Libya and little did I realize that, a short two years later, I’d be watching these countries and region of the world regularly on the nightly news.
Our task in Algeria was to spend several days with the members of parliament to present and discuss our ideas on how they could more fully interact with the citizens in their country.
Algeria is a Muslim country where the native language is Arabic, but it was a French colony until the mid-1960s and, in many ways, has been heavily influenced by the West. The period in their history under French rule is unflatteringly referred to by the Algerians as the “long colonial night.” The Algerian Freedom Fighters won independence for their country after a long and bloody revolution.
Today, their country’s wrestling with high unemployment, especially among its young people, and like many of the neighboring countries, there’s a strong desire for greater democratic process in their governance.
We had only a few days to meet with our regional counterparts in that country. Always under tight security, we didn’t have enough time to fully develop the trust and dialogue that might have been, given more time. But, we traded thoughts and ideas enough to sense that, though not in a political system like our own, or at least not yet, those legislators were very intent on building and strengthening their democratic process.
I noted in my journal my uncertainty of whether we were having much of an impact for all of the miles traveled to be there and the very significant cultural and language differences we were trying to cross so quickly. I wrote that the fruit of our efforts might remain unseen by us, but I felt that our presence with them and our earnestness in sharing best practices was worthwhile.
While in Algeria, the nightly news there covered the early protests taking place in Iran, not far away. It was one of those rare opportunities as an American state legislator to witness and briefly participate in something that might turn out to be similar to the early stages of our own democratic process. Time will tell.