This month’s protests in Algeria were some of the largest ever by the country’s youth. In the wake of the events, observers told Magharebia that the underlying anger stems not only from economic factors but a deep-seated sense of neglect and exclusion among young people.
“These young people are not rebelling against the high price of sugar and oil, but against the misery of daily existence which has gone on for too long now, without the slightest glimmer of hope on the horizon,” explained Baaziz, a singer, who broke his silence to express solidarity with the rioters.
Mourad Bouanani, 23, said that “there seems to be an anti-youth policy in the country”.
“You only have to look at the average age of those in government and company management to see that,” he added.
Bouanani finds it “humiliating” that at his age he still needs to beg for money from his retired father if he wants to go out. “I just go from the internet café to the local café; I can’t even afford to get a girlfriend and go out like the young people you see on foreign TV series,” he complained.
The ambitions of young Algerians are modest, according to a 2009 Gallup poll. The Silatech-sponsored survey found that 40% dream of starting a family, a third of landing a good job and 35% dream of leading a balanced religious and spiritual life.
Although the unease felt by young Algerians can be seen in their desire to flee their country, a large part of the young people interviewed said they were “bound hand and foot”, as the study put it, and unable to live the life of which they dreamed. Young Algerians complain in particular about the barriers which stand in their way. They do not feel “involved” in their country’s plans for progress.
Algerians seem divided on the methods used by rioters to express their anger. Now that the ill-feeling has subsided to some extent, it is time to assess the damage. The destruction caused during the riots was, in the words of the interior minister, “immense”. Young people attacked public and private property, including banks, schools, luxury shops, car dealerships and factories.
The violence has been widely viewed as an expression of young people’s frustration and a result of the muzzling of dissenting voices and the ban on peaceful demonstrations.
“Put yourself in the position of young people, who are deprived of any opportunity to thrive or express themselves freely,” underlined Baaziz.
“The official media are treating them like common thugs, thieves and burglars, without taking into account the problems that have driven them to this,” the singer said. A movement that has sprung up on the social networking site Facebook is calling on young people to “protest without causing damage”.
Internet users have debated the methods used by the young demonstrators. Some feel that because the state of emergency called in 1992 prohibits all gatherings and peaceful demonstrations, young people have no other means of making their voices heard. Others, however, have denounced what happened, which they believe portrays Algeria in a dim light.
“Rioters do not think things through,” Nacera Sadou said to El Watan. “They smash things and they take computers or televisions. They believe they really need these items and can sell them. They tell themselves: they’re just getting what they deserve, they’re rich. I have the right to do this.”
Ahmed Chenna, the General Secretary of the Algerian Civil Society Academy (ASCA), said that the demonstrations reached an “unacceptable” level as they have turned into what he called “criminal acts such as theft, destruction and violence against property”.
“The Civil Society Academy has set up a national committee to invite these young people to participate in direct and persuasive dialogue,” he told Magharebia.
While condemning the destruction of schools, the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) also advocated reforms of the Algerian social security system and, in particular, the education sector. It also supported the idea of giving unions greater freedom and establishing social justice through a fair distribution of wealth, housing and jobs.
Living in the Belcourt district, which still bears the scars of the recent troubled nights, Badredine H., 20, does not deny having taken part in last Friday’s demonstrations.
“It’s hogra that we’re complaining about because young people like us from working-class districts don’t have parents in high positions who can find us a good job,” he said.