Hogra is not a term known widely in the West, but it ought to be. Over the last several years, Hernando de Soto's researchers at the Institute for Liberty & Democracy (ILD) interviewed 35 survivors of self-immolation in the Maghreb. All named hogra as the number one reason for their attempted suicides.

Put most simply, hogra refers to vicious and humiliating discrimination by officials, the police, and bureaucracy. It often involves violence. Its victims are the dispossessed majority in Arab dictatorships where civil society was brutally suppressed and there is no form of redress for wrongs endured.

Hogra is a denial of dignity. When young Algerians took to the streets in protest in October 1988, it wasn't about food shortages, although those were acute, but injustice, inequality, and a demand for respect.

As author/translator Suzanne Ruta puts it,

"Hogra is Algerian dialect, from the Arab haqara, humiliation. It means contempt, insult to injury you could almost say, except that it describes an attitude that condones, and propagates, violence against the many, the laisses pour compte (the neglected majority)."

While it may have started in Algeria, the term is now used across the region. The closest thing Americans might have might be the vicious, brutal discrimination against African Americans in the Deep South prior to integration. Like that experience, hogra implies a careless, wonton cruelty, and exclusion.

In the United States, however, African Americans were generally in the minority. In North Africa and the Middle East, as in apartheid South Africa, the ruling elite - le pouvoir - are a tiny minority. They are brutally keeping the poor and excluded out. In some places, tribal attachments complicate the situation.

It may have to do with colonialism, with self-hatred, or with a separation, going back in Algeria to Ottoman times, between the citified foreign rulers and the rural ruled. In the French colony of Algeria, the country was divided into Algerie utile and Algerie futile. That is, useful and useless Algeria.

It's almost as if the rulers in the nations of North Africa and the Middle East think of the population, for the most part, as a dead weight, something they would just as soon ignore or be rid of, if they could.

But they cannot.

For more on the lexicon of the disenfranchised in North Africa, see:


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