Algeria: From the economic pretext to systemic causes. Promises and dangers of a revolt of dignity

, by  Saïd Bouamama

March 11, 2019

The popular demonstrations of 22 February 2019, which are taking place simultaneously in most of the major Algerian cities but also in many medium-sized cities, undeniably constitute the opening of a new historical sequence in Algerian political history. They mark the entry into the political arena of a new socialized generation over the past two decades, i.e. after the trauma of the « Black Decade » [1]. In economic terms, these are characterised by the growing polarisation between a social minority that is a client of the rentier state in scandalous enrichment and a large majority in continuous impoverishment as a result of liberal policies of deindustrialisation, privatisation and the dismantling of public services [2]. They are politically characterized by the lack of a credible alternative due to the attempt by the Algerian state and the classes it represents to impose a binary game that the "opposition" parties have not challenged because of their adherence to the economic liberalization undertaken by the state with forced march: chaos or resignation [3]. They are characterized on the "identity" level by the integration of the current of "political Islam" within the State apparatus and the comprador bourgeoisie [4]. They are sociologically characterized by increasing urbanization, an age pyramid with a very broad base, a high school enrolment rate and an openness to the world through social networks [5]. Finally, they are characterized in terms of the life experiences of this youth by the restriction of the field of possibilities to resourcefulness and the "haraga [6]". It is this explosive cocktail that comes to maturity with the announcement of the fifth term of office, making it the economic pretext that expresses a systemic causality like a dam that explodes after the continuous and invisible accumulation of pressure over the past two decades.

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[1While there is no consensus on the assessments of the victims of this decade, the massive nature of the human damage is undeniable: tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of traumatised and disabled people, thousands of women raped, thousands of exiles, thousands of missing persons, millions of displaced people. Not taking into account the collective trauma of such a life and death experience has condemned itself to the erroneous conclusions about the Algerian popular reactions that flourish in the French press: why did Algeria not experience an "Arab spring", the so-called depoliticization of Algerian society, the pseudo absence of social disputes signalling an equally illusory atony of the working classes, etc.?

[2To mention just one indicator, 14 million Algerians live below the poverty line, i.e. 35% of the population, and 10% of Algerians hold 80% of the country’s resources. These data are provided by a survey conducted by the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) in 2015: https://www.algerie-focus.com/2015/10/14-millions-de-pauvres-en-algerie10-dalgeriens-detiennent-80-des-ressources-du-pays/. While the official figures indicate a considerably smaller gap, they nevertheless converge to highlight an undeniable significant increase in the wealth gap: the data from the National Statistics Office thus indicate that 20% of households account for 40% of the Algerian people’s total expenditure in 2013: https://algeria-watch.org/?p=13682.

[3President Bouteflika’s latest statement of Thursday, March 7, indicates that the government is still trying to impose this binary logic despite the scale of the demonstrations: "We must call for vigilance and caution regarding a possible infiltration of this peaceful expression by any insidious party, from inside or outside, which could (...) provoke Fitna (discord) and chaos with all that they can cause as crises and misfortunes. ", https://www.rtl.fr/actu/international/algerie-abdelaziz-bouteflika-met-en-garde-contre-un-risque-de-chaos-7797151460.

[4The compromise that ended the black decade developed through the integration into state clientelism of some "religious" leaders and the emergence of a petty and commercial bourgeoisie from this origin in exchange for the famous "reconciliation".

[5In an excellent article released on March 7, sociologist Fatma Oussedik summarizes the main data characterizing the Algerian population as follows: 70% of the population is urban, the growth rate of this population remains high with a growth rate of 2.89% per year, the under-15s represent 29.7% of the population and the under-30s account for 54%. Bringing the number of demonstrators back to the working population, she points out: "The 3 million who demonstrated represent, in our opinion, about 25% of the population of demonstration age, regardless of the corrections made by including the children and pensioners present. ", https://www.elwatan.com/edition/contributions/un-peuple-de-trois-millions-dans-les-rues-des-villes-du-pays-qui-sommes-nous-07-03-2019.

[6The term "haraga" literally means "those who burn". It refers to the act of risking one’s life by attempting to cross the Mediterranean in makeshift boats. The president of the Sardinia region in Italy estimated that 1106 Algerians landed on the southwest coast of the island alone in 2016, https://www.algeriepatriotique.com/2017/09/27/recrudescence-inquietante-de-migration-algeriens-vers-litalie/.

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