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Demonstrations in Algeria

A lot of people have forgotten that the first state to follow the protests in Tunisia was Algeria, not Egypt.  But those protests ended quickly, and given that Ben Ali had not yet stepped down and the momentum and media attention was not really on the Middle East yet, the main note in the press was that the demonstrations resulted in canceled soccer matches.  BBC News is reporting on a rally in Algiers against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that fizzled out.  Our own Rob Prince has written a blog entry about Algeria, which is helpful in illuminating the unique situation of that state.  Two excerpts:

While they showed the same kind of courage as those who brought down Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, the demonstrators on the streets of Algiers on Saturday, February 12 really never had much of a chance. The odds were not good. 3-5000 protesters braved a security force that was estimated to be no less than 30,000, outnumbering the protesters by 6 or 7 to 1.

Still the Algerian government is nervous. 30,000 security police sent out to surround 3,000 demonstrators suggests a high degree of state paranoia. While Egypt is key to the transport of oil through a pipeline and the Suez Canal and Tunisia has very little of the `black gold’, pretty much the entire Algerian export economy is based on crude oil and gas production. Algeria is the third largest African oil producer after Nigeria and Angola. This helps explain the security police overkill presence, that along with this shaky regime’s nervousness.

In an attempt to minimize the political damage, the government has promised to lift the state of emergency `in the near future’ and also some economic reforms – jobs, completion of long promised public housing projects, better education, replacing subsidies on sugar and cooking oil recently suspended as part of World Bank, IMF structural adjustment programs. These are the same empty words that sputtered from the mouths of Ben Ali and Mubarak before their flight, the same song now being sung in Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Kuwait. Algerians have heard this song before many times and are not moved. The strategy employed is the same: agree to some modest, generally insignificant economic concessions while holding the line politically in an attempt to cling to power.

 

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