Saturday, January 08, 2011
Agence France Presse
PARIS: Violent protests that have erupted in Algeria and Tunisia expose frustrations over the economy and a moribund political elite that have in particular angered young graduates, analysts say.
The spreading of the unrest to Algeria after weeks of protests in Tunisia could also be due to widespread use of the Internet in the region, an analyst told A.F.P., as two Tunisian bloggers were arrested Thursday amid fresh protests.
The two countries – as well as their partner in the Maghreb region, Morocco – share the common trait of having economies unable to offer a place for their young graduates in the job market, economist Driss Benali told A.F.P.
“In these three countries, there have been efforts in the area of education but they did not think of ways to integrate young graduates into the community, an integration that happens through employment,” said the professor from Rabat’s Mohammad V University.
The protests have been led by youths, with unemployed graduates central to demonstrations in Tunisia linked to jobs and living costs and supported by high school students, unionists and lawyers.
The unrest, rare in tightly controlled Tunisia, has left four people dead: two during demonstrations and two suicides.
It erupted after 26-year-old university student Mohammad Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline on Dec. 17 to protest the police’s confiscation of fruit and vegetables he was hawking because he did not have a permit. Bouazizi died of his burns Tuesday, described by one diplomat as a “symbol of the rejection of unemployment and contempt.”
In Algeria youths rioted this week in the capital and other towns in protests also linked to unemployment, lack of social housing and jumps in the costs of sugar, oil and other basic items.
The world economic crisis has deepened financial difficulties confronting the region, even if price hikes in these countries are often carried by government subsidies.
“There is a lot of unemployment, lots of unemployed graduates, and that has been [the case] for a long time. The situation will remain until there is economic growth,” said Pierre Vermeren, a lecturer from the Paris I University.
“Also, the economic crisis has blocked emigration,” which has previously offered a way out for graduates from the Maghreb, he said.
Both countries also have “political systems in crisis,” with Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, both in their early 70’s, approaching the end of their careers apparently without lining up any succession.
The absence of a clear successor, “creates a political situation of waiting, without perspective,” Vermeren said.
Tunisia is however subject to more rigorous controls than Algeria and Morocco. “In Tunisia they are demonstrating because they are suffocating,” said Antoine Basbous from the Paris-based Observatory of African Countries.
“It is not only social violence but also a protest against the functioning of the regime. The regime and the Ben Ali family have pushed aside all potential successors … fear reigns,” he said.
Ben Ali, who rules with an iron first, has expressed concern about the unrest but in reality has little fear that his power could be threatened, analysts said.
In Algeria, meanwhile, the ruling party retains legitimacy as the national liberation movement and allows the opposition public expression, said Karim Pakzad from the Institute of International Strategic Relations in Paris.
Morocco is also more open. “Unemployed youths could demonstrate for months in front of the National Assembly at Rabat,” he said.
Vermeren also raised the popularity of the Internet and social networking sites, as well as television coverage, as a possible reason for the spread of the protests from Tunisia into Algeria.
“People are on the Internet or Facebook all day and the Algerians see very well what has happened in Tunisia,” Vermeren added.