High unemployment, food prices spark unrest in Algeria, Tunisia
Published Jan 13, 2011 9:12 PM
Unrest over the impact of the global economic crisis has struck another North
African state: this time Algeria, a former French colony that won its
independence after a protracted armed and mass struggle during the 1950s and
early 1960s. After winning state power under the leadership of the National
Liberation Front, the country became a major producer of oil and natural
Despite these tremendous reserves, the Algerian state has not been able to keep
apace with the growth in demands for jobs, housing and affordable foods. Since
December there have been mass demonstrations and rebellions in various parts of
the country in response to the escalating price of food and the shortage of
housing. The cost of flour and salad oil has doubled in the last few months
while unemployment is officially acknowledged to be at 10 percent.
The Algerian government reported that two people had been killed in the
disturbances and some 400 injured. According to Interior Minister Dahou Oul
Kablia, “More than 300 police and gendarmes have been wounded, while on
the other side there are fewer than 100 hurt.” (worldtribune.com, Jan.
Another report released by the Algerian Press Service and published by the
Xinhua News Agency, also on Jan. 10, put the death toll at four with 736
policemen and 53 civilians wounded. This report claimed that unrest was
continuing in the Annaba province, some 600 km east of the capital of
The government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has announced in response to
the demonstrations and violence that measures would be put in place to reduce
the prices for staples by the middle of January. Trade Minister Mustafa Bin
Badeh stated, “Those behind the rise in basic food items have been greedy
In another government statement, the Bouteflika administration emphasized,
“Nothing can cast doubt on the resolute will of the state, under the
direction of the president of the republic, to intervene whenever necessary to
preserve the purchasing power of citizens in the face of any price
increase.” During the recent unrest people have attacked government
buildings, police stations, banks and foreign-owned firms, including a
franchise for Renault automobiles.
The most violent clashes between youth and the police have occurred in the
capital of Algiers, where more than 100 people were reported injured. Police
were said to have used tear gas and batons against crowds across the country in
demonstrations which erupted again in the western city of Wahran on Jan. 5.
Some of the earliest accounts of unrest in the recent period were reported on
Dec. 30, when it was revealed that dozens of people had been injured and
arrested in unrest over inadequate housing in Les Palmiers, a suburb of
Algiers. The injured included 52 security officers and one civilian, according
to the Algerian Press Service. (Al Jazeera)
Economic crisis spreads to Tunisia
These demonstrations and rebellions are taking place at the same time as
protests in neighboring Tunisia, where unemployment is also high and inflation
has driven up the price of food and other consumer goods.
In renewed clashes between workers, youth and the police in Tunisia, some 14
people were reported killed over a three-day period, according to an Associated
Press report on Jan. 10. In Tunisia, where official unemployment stands at 14
percent, the Western-backed government has been shaken by the
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has called the demonstrators
“terrorists.” In a statement made over national television on Jan.
10, Ben Ali said, “I am clearly telling all those who seek to harm our
country’s interests that the law will prevail.” (Associated
The Western imperialist states that have substantial economic ties with both
Tunisia and Algeria are following the political situation in the region very
closely. Tunisia had been celebrated for its market-friendly approach to
relations with European countries and the U.S.
Recently the World Economic Forum based in Davos, Switzerland, named Tunisia as
Africa’s most competitive state. Nonetheless, this relatively small
nation, in comparison to Algeria — the second-largest geographically in
Africa with a population of 34 million — has not been able to create
enough jobs for its people nor maintain stable food prices.
Algeria’s substantial mineral wealth in oil and natural gas continues to
maintain the interests of the U.S. and European Union countries. The country is
reported to possess the 14th largest reserves of petroleum in the world and the
8th largest in natural gas deposits.
In a recent commentary written by Roula Khalaf and published in the Financial
Times of London, the concerns over developments in North Africa are deepening
with the growing unrest. Khalaf notes, “The dramatic events in North
Africa should be a warning to others in the region, particularly countries
where the number of young graduates is rising much faster than jobs are being
created.” (Financial Times, Jan. 10)
Khalaf also points out that events in Tunisia and Algeria have implications for
the staunchest ally of the U.S. in the region, the regime of Hosni Mubarak of
Egypt. The Financial Times article states that “Egypt, where economic
reforms have yet to trickle down to a needy population, should take notice,
especially as it has seen its own wave of small but regular strikes over the
This same article then points out that “in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, young
people have been showing solidarity with Tunisians and Algerians, spreading
their message of discontent across the internet.”
Consequently, the imperialist countries may be forced to make some serious
decisions about their alliance with certain regimes in the region if they prove
incapable of curbing unrest in response to the global economic crisis. Under
the so-called “war on terrorism” the U.S. and France are escalating
their military involvement in various regions of the African continent.
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