Algeria: Sidi Bouzid Fever Spreads
By: Mourad al-Traboulsi
Published Thursday, January 19, 2012

The threat of larger protests throughout Algeria has been growing for some time as President Bouteflika's five-year plan appears to be lagging behind.

People of all ages joined protests that have swept through the streets of ten Algerian provinces over the past month to demand jobs, housing, and an improvement of public services.

Protesters in Aghwat province (400km south of the capital Algiers) have continued to occupy the city's streets and central square for a second week, calling for a fair distribution of social housing units.

The protests have escalated over the past two weeks, culminating in demonstrators calling for the departure of the wali (governor), the highest ranking official in the district.

The wali had given orders to security forces to use force to disperse a protest outside his office.

In the past few days, the police used sticks and tear gas to clear crowds, which resulted in dozens of injuries on both sides. A large number of protesters were also arrested.

Demonstrations have gradually reached the villages of the al-Qabael region and the provinces of al-Jalafa, al-Msila, Ghardaia, al-Bouira, Boumerdes, al-Shalaf, and Ricla.

Locals in these provinces are protesting the severe delay in the implementation of the government's five-year plan (2010-2014).

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised to complete these projects when his presidential term was extended for the third time in April 2009.

Demonstrators have employed a varying array of tactics in order to carry out their protests including burning tires, erecting barricades, and blocking roads.

However, they have recently resorted to a new method. Recently they shut down administrative buildings by preventing officials from reaching their offices.

This year began with a series of strikes at public institutions and protests in over 15 provinces.

Young people living in the south of the country in areas rich with oil and gas are demanding jobs. Unemployment in most southern areas has reached more than 40 percent.

In addition, labor is being "imported" from the northern provinces, which benefit from superior government development programs.

Recently, a large number of protesters went on successive hunger strikes that lasted weeks. Also, the latest official reports indicate that security forces intervened 9,000 times in 2011 to disperse protesters.

The deterioration of living conditions and the expansion of poverty to include a large segment of the middle class are behind many of the strikes. This has also forced tens of thousands to leave the country in search of a livelihood and dignity.

Labor unions in the fields of education, health, and public administration and municipalities are preparing for national strikes next month in order to force the government to fulfill its obligations.

Official sources, particularly in the parliament, fear that these strikes will snowball into mass popular protests demanding political change.

Thus, MPs have called on the government to seriously study the demands of the unions for fear that they will be able to mobilize a large number of protesters.