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Algerian president announces reform will come

According to this BBC News article, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has announced that the state will take steps to create political reform.  The focus of the changes will be electoral laws and laws allowing journalism to be easily censored.  Bouteflika did not discuss possible term limits upon himself.  The article points out that economic issues are actually the key issue in Algeria, and the proposed changes are political in nature.  Still,

Political analyst Mohamed Lagab cautiously welcomed Mr Bouteflika’s speech.

“Acknowledging that political reforms – and not only social and economic reforms – will help to solve the crisis is key,” the Algiers University academic told Reuters news agency.

“But Bouteflika did not give a deadline for the reforms he announced and he did not sack the government yet,” he added.

The article also points out that 150,000 people died in the last war in Algeria, which resulted in a new constitution in 1996.  The explanation for why Algerians have not been aggressively protesting likely has to do with popular memory of past violence and a suspicion that a recurrence of violence is never far off.  Confident of martial consequences, the motivation to protest is stymied.


Friday protests

There were protests through out the Middle East today, it being Friday.  In Egypt, protesters gathered to express a desire that Mubarak be put on trial.  In Jordan, authorities are working to keep competing groups of protesters seperate.  In Syria, despite the President’s speech on Wednesday, protests occured, with several dying (one estimate was four people) as the protesters were disperesed.  The largest protests occured in Yemen, where to rallies supporting opposite views occured a mile and half away from each other, as explained in this BBC News article.  Bahrain’s protesters continue to face a growing crackdown.  Meanwhile, in Kuwait, the whole cabinet resigned, as reported in this Al Jazeera article.  While Kuwait has not yet had any major popular protests, it is certainly a state to keep an eye on.  Another state to keep an eye on is Algeria, and Professor Rob Prince has an article up on his blog pertaining to that state.

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.


Small protest in Algeria is broken up by riot police

BBC News is reporting that a small protest in Algiers, calling for increased freedom and democracy, was broken up by the authorities (on the basis that they had not approved the protest).

Demonstrations are banned in Algeria because of a state of emergency in place since 1992, and the government had warned people not to attend the demonstration called by the RCD in central Algiers.

Recent events in Tunisia certainly contribute to the protests occurring throughout the Arab world this week.  But given the sizable protests that happened just last week in Algeria over rising food prices, the government is likely pleased that this protest did not swell into anything larger.

Tunisia makes Arab leaders anxious

An interesting aspect to the political developments in Tunisia is the reaction of other autocratic Arab states.  The New York Times is reporting on that angle.  The article specifically mentions Syria, Kuwait, Egypt, and Algeria.  If you follow the news in Egypt there are certainly plenty of developments meriting revolution more than what sparked the Tunisians, yet state control there is stronger.

Fahmy Howeidy, an Egyptian political expert and newspaper columnist, said that while he did not believe conditions were ripe for a similar uprising in Egypt, the government was keenly aware that “what happened in Tunisia has definitely created a different atmosphere. It convinced people that they can revolt in the streets, and that these regimes are not as strong or as mighty as they appear.”

Algeria has reason not to expect last weeks rioting to not develop into a larger movement as well:

But more fundamentally, [said Hugh Roberts, an independent scholar], Algeria is not as repressive as Tunisia was. “It is not an autocracy, it is an oligarchy,” he said, explaining that in addition to the president,Abdelaziz Bouteflika, there are multiple power centers, like the military, the intelligence services and the elite bureaucrats. That, he said, meant that unlike in Tunisia there is no one target of public ire, and no public sense that protests would help to dislodge those at fault.

Algerian riots cause football cancelations

This BBC News article discusses an outbreak of riots in Algeria and why this led to halting the weekend’s football matches.  The protests are largely about political repression, food prices, unemployment, and housing.  Football matches are one of the best opportunities for people to express themselves politically, which is why they have been postponed.  The article also discusses recent protests in Tunisia, which likely influence the protesting in Algeria.

Investigating Algeria’s civil war

Al Jazeera has an incredible in depth article about the Algerian civil war.  It appears that the Algerian military would try to create the appearance that Islamist groups were committing terrorist acts when in fact they were not, in order to construct a false enemy and to carry out more ruthless operations without getting attention.

These witnesses paint a clear picture of counterinsurgency operations: the arming of militias by the state, systematic torture and disappearances. Key to the strategy were false flag operations and misinformation casting political opponents as ruthless terrorists, while genuine opponents of the regime were “eradicated” – their killings often blamed on “Islamists”.

The counterinsurgency tactics, Samraoui states, were rooted in those used by the French secret services during the Algerian War of Independence.

Much of the article considers attempts to create a semblance of justice out of this tumultuous past.