20 January, 2011 — Middle East Report Online: Algeria’s Midwinter Uproar
For background on Bouteflika, see Ahmed Aghrout and Yahia Zoubir, ‘Introducing Algeria’s President-for-Life,’ Middle East Report Online, April 1, 2009 and Jacob Mundy, ‘Bouteflika’s Triumph and Algeria’s Tragedy,’ Middle East Report Online, April 10, 2009.
For background on the deeper political system, see James McDougall, ‘After the War: Algeria’s Transition to Uncertainty,’ Middle East Report 245 (Winter 2007).
Soon after the onset of protests which eventually toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, a wave of riots swept through Algeria as well, with many neighborhoods in the capital of Algiers and dozens of smaller cities overwhelmed by thousands of angry young men who closed down streets with burning tires, attacked police stations with rocks and paving stones, and set fire to public buildings. For Algerians a few years older than the rioters, these events recalled the uprising of October 1988, in which violent unrest upended the single-party state.
The disturbances of January 2011 were sparked by a sudden increase in commodity food prices, local journalists maintained, although much of the international press also linked them to a domino effect emanating from neighboring Tunisia. Both of these accounts are strikingly incomplete, however: Food price spikes were certainly one immediate cause of the Algerian unrest, but they were not the underlying reason that crowds of youths spontaneously decided to set upon policemen and other symbols of the state. Likewise, the theory of Tunisian contagion, while it may capture another contributing factor, ignores the national economic and political specificities that both triggered the Algerian rioting and determined its eventual course.