Rumblings of discontent in Algeria’s Bejaia

Algeria is gripped with anger about effects of auster­ity measures, future of country during year of legislative elections.

Source: (The World Bank)

2017/01/08 Issue: 88 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Lamine Ghanmi

Tunis - Demonstrators in the north-eastern Algerian town of Bejaia clashed with riot police, burn­ing a police truck, a bus and damaging buildings in protest against rising commodity prices.

Local media reported several policemen and protesters were in­jured.

However, most cities and villages remained quiet, even in the restive Berber-speaking Kabylie, which has often joined protests in Bejaia.

An anonymous statement had called for a seven-day strike by lo­cal businesses over price increases and austerity measures in Algeria’s 2017 budget. The call went viral on social media.

People across Algeria rushed to markets, emptying shelves of es­sential goods.

Political experts compared the atmosphere surrounding the call for the strike to the social climate that led to riots in October 1988. Rising prices, the high rate of un­employment among young people and austerity measures announced by the government were the main reasons then for the unrest.

The violent protests were also due to falling oil prices in the pre­ceding years, as it is the case now with slow economic and political reform, as well as the deep social frustration.

Bejaia followed the strike call with a vengeance, apparently be­cause of the strong support there for the separatist Autonomy Move­ment for Kabylie led by singer-turned-politician Ferhat Mehenni.

Algeria is gripped with anger about the effects of the auster­ity measures and the future of the country during a year of legislative elections.

Under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s reforms, the next gov­ernment will be formed by the win­ner of the polls but there is unlikely to be much change in the status quo as the country’s leaders see pre­serving stability as the priority.

“Widespread social discontent gripped society because of the aus­terity measures and rising prices,” said political analyst Hamid Said­ani.

Because of the local currency weakness, due to shrinking oil ex­port revenues, local prices have risen more than 6% in the last year. The head of parliament’s budget committee, Mahjoub Bedda, said he expected prices to increase up to 9% this year because of austerity measures.

Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui blamed “domestic enemies of the state” for Bejaia’s riots and urged Algerians to come together to protect the country’s stability and security.

“We are in a very particular con­juncture. Without security and stability nothing can be done,” he said.

Lamine Ghanmi is a veteran Reuters journalist. He has covered North Africa for decades and is based in Tunis.

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