Algeria responds to social protests


Algeria has witnessed unprecedented unrest in the past few months. Resident doctors, postal workers, students and the unemployed all have axes to grind. To placate the protestors, the authorities have adopted a raft of new measures.

Since the beginning of this year, law enforcement officers have carried out no fewer than 2,777 riot control operations. A record was set in March, when more than 70 rallies and sit-ins were staged.

In response, the government has issued calls for dialogue, bowed to demands for pay hikes and promised greater political freedom.

The measures, however, have come at a price. Experts fear that they will lead to a deficit of 33.9% of GDP in the amended 2011 budget, which was approved by parliament on Wednesday (June 15th).

“Algeria has managed to maintain law and order without resorting to violence” by adopting measures to curb the social unrest, according to Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia.

Algerian experts believe that the recent uprisings in Arab countries have served as a wake-up call for political leaders.

“Officials are looking for solutions and ways of enabling the country to switch to a new mode of governance,” economic consultant Arslane Chikhaoui said. Increased attempts at dialogue and consultation lead to “a better understanding by officials of the reality on the ground”.

“Until now, everyone has been confined to their own environment and there was no connection between the various parties,” Chikhaoui said.

The protest movement in Algeria has brought about a new political culture which is seen “within both civil society and the government”, said sociologist Amel Boubekeur.

“This is a political culture which is not being expressed through ideology since we did not see Islamists, leftists or Berberists during the riots,” she told APS. “Only after the riots, these political currents tried to organise this movement.”

Young Algerians are not in a position to demand alternative policies or ideologies; rather, they are displaying “civil resistance”, Boubekeur added.

“Where the winds of social revolt, which blew in from Tunisia, have mobilised those who are in unstable situations, those who are badly paid and the poor, the authorities have made a tactical retreat,” Socialist Workers’ Party (PST) chief Chawki Salhi told El Watan. “Those in power have realised how vulnerable they are in the absence of mediation. These frameworks for dialogue are intended to be an alternative to riots.”

The population has been supportive of the protests, despite the inconvenience they have caused.

The strikes are “understandable, people can’t make ends meet any more,” taxi driver Abdenour Zeriguine told Magharebia. “The Arab nations are calling for the overthrow of their regimes. The Algerians, meanwhile, want their system to collapse!”

Noria, a 40-year-old nurse, felt that the measures taken by the government were insufficient to quell the anger on the streets. “You can’t make something new out of something old,” she said. “There has been a big debate about civil society, but always with the same people.”

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