Maghreb riots and violence

The Moor Next Door's Kal (who is part Algerian) wrote a long post on the recent riots in Algeria. I think the following passage on violence particularly interesting, because it deals, on top of an Algerian particularity, with a key aspect of political change in the Arab world — namely, in the absence of strong incentives and willingness for change from the regimes, is there an alternative to violence? In the face of completely locked political-security systems, have such riots — generally discouraged by even opposition political leaders as well as outsiders — became the only vector for change, even though it is often undirected, aimless violence? 

On these riots, protests, demonstrations or  intifada in Algeria — whatever one wants to call them — the government has been relatively quiet except to announce its confidence that it will lower consumer prices or deploy more security forces to manage them. The President and Prime Minister have been silent. A grave statement from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika or Prime Minister Ouyahia would show weakness by condescending to the level of jobless boys and legitimizing their conduct. It could also escalate tensions as was the case following Tunisian President Zine el-Abdine Ben Ali’s speech last week. Those high officials that have commented have done so in puzzling ways. The Minister of Youth and Sports, for example, was quoted as urging youths to stop rioting by arguing “violence has never had results, not in Algeria or anywhere else, and our youth know that”. Algerians that have grown up with stories of a million martyrs who brought the country independence through armed struggle have been taught through their whole lives quite the opposite. In a country with great streets, squares, airports and whole towns are named after men like Larbi Ben M’hidi, Che Guevara, Mourad Didouche and Mustapha Ben Boulaid — not to mention an entire Ministry of Moudjahidine — such a comment sounds remarkably detached (don’t even start on the national anthem). And even more directly, the young men in the street know full well the government has kept power with many of the same faces in power for so long through quite violent means. The Algerian national anthem declares: “had we not spoken up none would have listened” (لم يكن يصغى لنا لما نطقنا) (similarly, Jay-Z says “a closed mouth don’t get fed.”) The Minister’s statement reflects the long obvious gap between the old and the young.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.