Mainstream narratives of the Arab Spring have been both simplistic and influential. The coverage of the uprisings in the Maghreb and the Middle East has been dominated by the notion that the events were as unforeseeable as they were sudden. But for the observer of social change and cultural production in North Africa, the 2011 uprisings were anything but surprising. In fact, from Egypt to Morocco, filmmakers have been predicting and projecting the growing wrath of youthful populations coming under increasing pressure from economic globalisation and have been projecting for decades. The attentive viewer will have glimpsed in these films the indigenous voices of disaffected youth and ordinary people. Contemporary North African filmmakers have painted remarkably subtle portraits of their changing societies.
In the early 1980s, the countries of North Africa began to implement the International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Programmes. What was initially perceived as a short-term strategy to tackle recession-induced public deficit and soaring international debt transpired to be a decades-long era of privatisations, austerity, high unemployment and low human development rates. Rapid neo-liberalisation engendered deep social and political transformations. Market forces consolidated the regimes’ hold on power while poverty levels soared, public education and healthcare deteriorated, and loss and uncertainty characterised the everyday lives of the people of the Maghreb. This is the world that has formed the region’s new generation; and this is the world that is depicted on the screen.