July 6, 2001 | Page 7
ALGERIA'S PRESIDENT announced a ban on demonstrations in the capital of Algiers last month after weeks of protests that have shaken the military regime. The demonstrations were sparked in April by the police killing of a young Berber man and started out as calls for greater freedom for the oppressed Berber minority.
But the protests have since spread across the country--with demonstrators taking up a wide range of issues, including an end to military rule. HASSAN BERBER writes from France on the unrest. His article was translated by SOPHIE HAND.
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IN ALGERIA, a quasi-insurrection is spreading progressively throughout the country. It was sparked by the cold-blooded murder of a 28-year-old youth by police officers on April 18.
The heart of the insurrection was in the region of Kabylie, east of Algiers, but it has expanded widely.
The mass demonstration in Algiers June 14 involved about 1 million protesters, making it the largest since Algeria's war for independence in 1962. As usual, the protest was put down with bloodshed.
But this uprising is deeper than ones that hit Algeria in 1980 and 1988.
In 1980, the government succeeded in isolating the rebellion in Kabylie. Eight years later, a youth revolt was repressed in a bloodbath that claimed more than 500 victims. After the massacre, the regime allowed the Islamic Salvation Front to become legal and conceded some democratic rights. But during the 1992 elections, the military settled the score with a coup.
Now the government is facing a groundswell in every direction. The uprisings have spread to every urban and industrial area in the east and southeast of the country and are beginning now in the west.
The rebellion began among Algerian youth, who face daily misery because of widespread unemployment and poverty. It is the youth who have courageously confronted police and riot cops in dozens of cities and towns. More than 54 police stations have been set on fire, which speaks volumes about the depth of anger.
Peasants and rural residents have also figured prominently in the fight. The "aarchs"--traditional councils in Kabyl villages--initiated the call for the June 14 demonstration.
Finally, city dwellers are playing a key role. Committees have been formed in neighborhoods, townships and provinces, first in Kabylie, but also in the east and now in the west. Many teachers, professors and unionists are involved. They form the scaffolding of a national resistance movement and have worked out a 15-point platform demanding democratic and cultural rights.
The social base of the military regime is crumbling quickly. In Oran, the National Union of Algerian Youth, an organization loyal to the government, was unable to hold a demonstration it had planned, in spite of all the official means at its disposal. Plus, the General Union of Algerian Workers, an official union tied to the regime, has been forced to take up some of the demands of the population--and to denounce government plans for privatization, layoffs and deep cuts in social spending.
Whether workers will bring their muscle behind the rebellions remains the key question. There have been health care strikes in Oran and demonstrations of civil servants and teachers. But there has yet to be a mass strike that could finish off the government.
The regime is clearly worried about this. In Tiaret, when anger threatened to turn into an uprising, officials paid public-sector workers three months of their salaries--something without precedent in a country where workers typically wait months to get paid.
Algeria's ruling class has been confronted by a population waging a war for freedom. The Algerian uprising needs our solidarity.