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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
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Category: Algeria

ALGERIA: Postponing economic therapy is playing with fire


Editor’s note: This post is from analyst Lahcen Achy, below left, with the Carnegie Middle East Center. Neither the Los Angeles Times nor Babylon & Beyond endorses the positions of the analysts, nor does Carnegie endorse the positions of The Times or its blog.

Achy_color_medium In recent weeks, Algeria’s government has taken a series of steps to improve the economy and reduce public anger over its poor political and economic performance. The government amended the 2011 budget law, approving a 25% increase in public spending.

The country also launched a new round of negotiations with the European Union aimed at postponing Algeria’s obligation to lift customs barriers on European imports. Policymakers also took various measures to improve the country’s business environment and stimulate private investment.

Although these moves may suppress the potential risk of short-term popular unrest, they fail to address the structural flaws in Algeria’s economy. Its excessive dependence on global oil and gas prices, along with the absence of any credible strategy for economic diversification, present clear mid- to long-term challenges.

Carnegie logoThis failure to use available resources today to develop competitive economic activities outside the fuel sector is exposing Algeria to serious dangers in the future. If the price of oil suddenly drops below $100 — which is plausible — it will be impossible to maintain the current pace of government spending without tapping the country’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Revenue Regulation Fund, and then resorting to foreign loans.

On the other hand, sharply reducing government spending to limit the budget deficit could fuel popular anger and throw the country into a cycle of social unrest. Even if fuel prices stay high, however, Algeria’s oil and gas reserves could be depleted within 20 years. Algeria’s leaders must therefore start now to seriously plan for a post-fuel economy. 

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MOROCCO: Protest violence could escalate, intelligence analyst says


Moroccan police beat dozens of protesters who defied a ban on demonstrations and took to the streets of the capital Rabat and Casablanca on Sunday, according to news reports.

Months of protests in the north African nation have led its monarch, Mohammed VI, to make some concessions, but not enough to please protesters. They appeared more defiant Sunday, although their numbers have failed to match the scale of demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia other countries that saw "Arab Spring" uprisings.

Babylon & Beyond spoke Monday with Metsa Rahimi, an intelligence analyst with London-based Janusian Risk Consultancy who specializes in North Africa, about the Moroccan protests.

B&B: Why are people protesting in Morocco?

M.R.: The protests have been going on for three months now, so it’s not necessarily new. It was inspired by other events in other countries in the region back in February, the 20th of February protest movement.

The economy is one of the poorest in the region, dependent on tourism, with a younger population.

In terms of the other monarchies -- there is a sense of loyalty to monarchies, as opposed to self-appointed autocrats, and so they have been less vulnerable to protesters calling for their downfall.

Q: How have Morocco's leaders and security forces responded to the protests?

A: Until now, we haven’t seen a lot of violence in Morocco. It’s all been very moderate. What we’ve seen in the last fortnight, not only has the 20th of February movement become more radical, but the police have begun to use more force.

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ALGERIA: Cabinet lifts state of emergency

Algiers Algeria's cabinet on Tuesday adopted an order to lift the 19-year-old state of emergency, the country's official news agency reported.

An instruction to lift the state of emergency will come into force from its "imminent" publication in the official gazette, the APS news agency reported.

--  Molly-Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Student protesters gather during a protest where they demanded the government repeal certain benefits for public officials on Tuesday in front of the ministry for higher education in Algiers. Credit: Farouk Batiche / AFP/Getty Images

ALGERIA: Police crack down on rally, but protesters vow to press on


Algerian riot police prevented protesters from gathering Saturday in May 1 Square in Algiers, the nation's capital, according to media reports.

"Incredible tension on the streets. people standing around, police everywhere helicopters above. Feels like it'll break any minute," journalist Assia Boundaoui tweeted from the capital around noon Saturday.

Footage aired by Al Jazeera English about the same time appeared to show several hundred protesters converging on May 1 Square surrounded by a heavy police presence. Many protesters were shouting slogans and holding signs calling for increased freedom and democracy.

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ALGERIA: Clashes, arrests reported at banned anti-government demonstration

201121119338672884_20Algerian police cracked down on demonstrators at a banned Egypt-inspired anti-government march Saturday in the Algerian capital, clashing with protesters and arresting rally-goers, media reports said.

A journalist with the Agence France Presse news agency said that around 2,000 demonstrators were out in the streets of Algiers forcing a police cordon.

According to Algerian human rights activist Mustapha Bouchachi, Algerian security forces detained 100 demonstrators at the march, which had been called by the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), an umbrella group of opposition parties and civil society movements.

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ALGERIA: Oil revenues will not prevent social upheaval, says analyst

[Editor's note: Analysts of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.]

While Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s recent announcement that he will end the country’s 19-year-old state of emergency law was welcome news, leaders must quickly address the major structural problems plaguing its economy and increase government oversight or risk continued unrest.

Carnegie logoWhile socioeconomic conditions are similar in Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia –- including high levels of unemployment, particularly among youth, widespread corruption and bureaucracy, and lack of transparency -– Algeria is different because of its rich petroleum and gas resources.

Algeria’s oil reserves exceed 10 billion barrels, with daily production estimated at 1.2 million barrels. But at a time when a barrel of oil fetches $100 on the global market, the average citizen sees slowing economic growth, spreading poverty and unemployment, declining purchasing power and unaffordable housing.

To help prevent further unrest, the government should address the multiple structural defects hurting Algeria’s economy.

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ALGERIA: Opposition vows to take to the streets despite promises of reform


Algerian opposition activists are not impressed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who announced on Thursday plans to lift the 19-year state of emergency "very soon" even as he used the powers granted him by the emergency law to ban protest marches in the capital.

"I don't think this government is serious about implementing democracy in Algeria," Rachid Malawi, head of the independent union of civil servants, told Reuters

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ALGERIA: Italian woman kidnapped

An Italian woman on a tourist trip to the Sahara desert in Algeria has been kidnapped by men armed with automatic weapons, according to Algeria's official APS news agency.

The woman was kidnapped Wednesday night in the desert south of the Algerian town of Djanet, and a major security operation was under way to find her Friday, the agency reported, citing a local authority.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

ALGERIA: As unrest spreads, government promises end to 19-year 'emergency'


Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika plans to repeal the 19-year-old state of emergency in the Arab country "in the very near future," the state-controlled news agency reported Thursday.

The report of the official APS news service also quoted Bouteflika as telling his Cabinet that political and economic reforms would be undertaken to tackle severe unemployment and rising food prices.

The easing of goverment controls imposed a generation ago as purported safeguards against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism appeared to have been spurred by the wave of protests across the Middle East in demand of more political freedom and an end to authoritarian rule. Algeria has been among the countries afflicted with sporadic rioting and unrest.

By scrapping some of his emergency powers, Bouteflika may also be attempting to counter a mass protest planned in the capital, Algiers, on Feb. 12.

Discontent, especially among jobless youths, has roiled the Middle East for months. Demonstrators drove out the long-ruling regime in Tunisia last month and now confront Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with the most defiant challenge to his leadership in the 30 years he has been in power.


Egypt uprising: News, photos, videos and more

Prime minister warns police against interfering with Friday protests

U.S., Egyptian officials trade accusations over Cairo unrest

--Carol J. Williams

Image: Clashes continued around Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday afternoon. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

ARAB WORLD: Protests in Algeria and Yemen draw inspiration from Tunisia uprising

Activists in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and even Albania  took to the streets this weekend demanding democratic reforms in their countries.  

Some expressed explicit support for the Tunisian people, calling for similar uprisings in their own countries. Others were more reserved. Jordanians directed their anger at the prime minister rather than trying to oust the royal family.

The popular demonstrations drew comparisons to the Tunisian protest movement that has captivated the world. But opinions remain divided on whether these events constitute a real threat to the ruling powers in those countries.

"The regime will always look strong until the day it collapses," Nadim Shehadi, from the London-based think tank Chatham House, told Babylon & Beyond. "It cannot look weak, because the minute it looks weak it is dead already."

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EGYPT: Incidents of protesters setting themselves on fire occur across North Africa

Egyptian protester The depressed fruit seller in Tunisia who set himself on fire and touched off protests that toppled former President Zine el Abidine ben Ali has inspired copycats in recent days in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania.

On Monday, a 50-year-old man frustrated by tough economic times set himself on fire outside the Egyptian parliament. Abdou Abdul Monem, a father of four who owns a stand near Ismailia, Egypt, for selling fast food, was said to have grown desperate after a dispute with local authorities over receiving his monthly coupons for subsidized bread.

Abdul Monem traveled to the capital and stood outside parliament shouting anti-government slogans before dousing himself with fuel and setting himself on fire. A nearby taxi driver intervened with a fire extinguisher. Egyptian Health Minister Hatem El Gabali said Abdul Monem suffered first-degree burns on 15% of his body and should be discharged from a hospital within 48 hours.

The self-immolation comes a day after four similar incidents were reported in Algeria, where protests against high prices for food and commodities have been going on for the last two weeks. Algerian media reported that the men were angry and depressed.

In Mauritania, Foreign Ministry official Abdou Ould Sidi said that police rushed a man to hospital in Nouakchott on Monday. Yacoub Ould Dahoud, 43, drove to a capital building before torching himself in his car to voice his resentment toward Mauritania's government.

The self-immolation in December of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia is cited as the starting point that spurred nationwide anger and dismay over Ben Ali's authoritarian rule. After weeks of violent protests that led to the shooting of scores of demonstrators, Ben Ali fled the country.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Abdou Abdul Monem, the Egyptian man who set himself ablaze, lies on the ground after the fire is extinguished, Jan. 17, 2011. Credit: Reuters


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