I’ve had a fascinating week in Algeria, learning about the culture and political climate. Many saw Algeria as an inevitable candidate for an “Arab Spring,” but on the ground, I found the people to be experiencing major war fatigue and would prefer a diplomatic approach to their issues. I will post some photos in the coming days, but here is one of my articles:
Why Algeria’s Grievances Don’t Spark a Revolution
By Vivian Salama
Earlier this month, a policeman offering no explanation simply confiscated the cigarettes that Rachak Hamza, 25, had been vending in a desperate effort to make ends meet. Local papers in the easter Algerian port city of Jijel, say Hamza erupted in a “fit of rage,” returning to the scene with a tank of gas which he used to drench his body before lighting a match. But unlike the similar act of outrage by vegetable vendor Mohammed Bouazizi that triggered last year’s revolution in neighboring Tunisia, Hamza’s story was quickly forgotten. Indeed, it was just one of at least 50 acts of self-immolation as protest reported across Algeria since January last year, according to local health authorities. None of them has, thus far, inspired a revolt.
Closer to the capital, the words “we want freedom” are spray-painted in Arabic alongside mobile homes in the suburb of Ain Taya. Down the road, in French, the words “On Vuet Vivre” — we want to live — decorate another building.
Algeria’s ruling party took nearly half the seats in parliamentary elections last week, a stunning deviation from previous votes that saw significant opposition victories, particularly among Islamist parties. The ruling National Liberation Front said Wednesday the vote confirmed the electorate’s desire “to safeguard national stability,” but opposition groups have cried fraud. If the wave of religious conservatism sweeping this North African country is any indication, Islamists are far more influential in Algeria than its election results reflect.
On the street, beleaguered citizens believe change is beyond reach. Unemployment is too high; youth activism is too low; and memories are still seared by the decade-long bloodbath that followed the military’s overturning of the 1991 election that looked set to bring the Islamists to power. Corruption is rampant, draining the country of much of the wealth generated by its oil exports. “The issue here, very simple, is democracy,” says Makri Abderrazak, a former member of parliament and vice president of the Movement for the Society of Peace, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which swept elections in Tunisia and Egypt. “People want jobs, people want basic rights, people want to benefit from the country’s resources, but this government is not giving them the chance and this fraudulent election means things will only get worse.” (more…)