SIM REPORT: Anti-government unrest in Algeria set to proliferate, presenting challenges for new government
There has been a reinvigoration of widespread civil unrest throughout the country with flashpoint events once again orientating in the oil-rich southern provinces and in the restive northern region of Kabylie.
Protests took place at the opening of the month in the oil town of Ouargla, approximately 79km south of the capital Algiers, mainly driven by youths seeking better job opportunities. The town has been the centre of gravity of regional unrest, with daily protests, marches and road blockades punctuated by violence. Demonstrators had rioted and clashed with local law enforcement and the gendarmerie.
The mobilisations inspired unemployed youths in the towns of El Oued (El Oued province) and El Maghier (El Maghier province), with activists demanding jobs, better housing opportunities and more sustainable and reliable water provision. Road mobility had also been impacted as protesters blockaded the RN16 road linking El Oued with Tebessa, and the RN3, which connects El Oued to Touggourt. Even in Hassi Messaoud, the region’s main oil hub and only 188km southeast of Ouargla, unemployed residents took to the streets.
Meanwhile in the northern region of Kabylie, a part of the country with longstanding anti-government credentials, there were a series of demonstrations by pro-democracy activists calling for major political reform and for the government of Prime Minister Aimene Benabderahmane, who was appointed on 30 June following snap parliamentary elections, to address high unemployment and inflation. The region has become a reinvigorated node for anti-government unrest led by the Hirak movement, the reactionary pro-democracy force that has been spearheading anti-government demonstrations since 2019. Hirak was forced to gravitate toward the Kabylie region after the government banned their activities in Algiers.
While there are common threads of grievances shared among these protest movements, there are several indicators pointing to escalation. Even during the pre-pandemic period, Algeria’s oil-dependent economy was in decline largely driven by long-standing structural issues that benefited public and private sector leadership that has created a deep and broad-based economic, social and political inequalities. The pandemic deepened the crisis to the point that high levels of public unrest forced the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019; meanwhile, PM Benabderahmane and his administration show very limited will to break the cycle of previous governments. The newly-appointed cabinet shows little deviation from the previous in terms of substance and capability, and this is problematic for the vast majority of Algerians engaged in daily demonstrations. The optics only underscore that there is very limited appetite and potential for substantial reforms that will improve the social well-being and economic conditions of Algerians.
The government will struggle to contain greater unrest for the foreseeable future, especially if it continues to view the opposition and the unrest through a security lens. Additionally, the Delta COVID-19 variant is racing through the populace, and this will undoubtedly force the government to reimpose restrictive measures that will have a dual purpose: control the spread of the virus and suppress opposition-led demonstrations. The current trending indicates that a deviation upwards for Algeria’s instability and insecurity is expected in the medium term (<3-6 months).
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