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ALGERIA: Civil Society Demands End to State of Emergency

Kaci Racelma

ALGIERS, Jan 27 2011 (IPS) - The lifting of the state of emergency that has been in force in Algeria for nearly 20 years has emerged as a rallying point for groups united for democratic change.

The capital, Algiers, Oran, Tizi-Ouzou, and many other Algerian cities experienced unrest throughout January, particularly after the popular uprising in Tunisia forced the departure of President Zine Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.

Violent demonstrations across the country have led to five deaths, more than 800 wounded and a thousand arrests; as well as extensive damage to property, according to a report from the Interior Minister, Daho Ould Kablia.

In an interview with the online newspaper Algérie-Focus on Jan. 10, Ould Kablia asserted that the riots had their roots in “pessimism and nihilism” of Algerian youth.

“These are the reasons [for protest] that we know of: a lack of leisure activities, interrupted schooling, a disinterested family environment, the influences of the street and foreign media… They love the things that they can only get by theft, by contraband, by trafficking drugs.”

But Ahcène Bouzidi, a student in Algiers, rejected the minister’s view.

“Algerian youth are deprived of everything. In addition to problems of unemployment, housing and poor living conditions, they are forbidden to express themselves, even peacefully,” he said. “The state of emergency, which has lasted 19 years, is invoked every time the interests of those in power are threatened.”

Amar Zaidi, avocat et militant des droits de l’Homme en Kabylie, agrees. “In the virtual absence of a suitable space for expression, thousands of young Algerians from all regions of the country – marginalised, poor and without other options – have braved the enforced confinement which has lasted for 19 years to spill their bitterness in the street,” he told IPS.

“It’s really terrible; at the moment when the country has 155 million dollars of foreign reserves, the socioeconomic vise tightens on society: all the ingredients are in place for a social explosion,” said Zaidi.

A meeting in Algiers on Jan. 21 brought together independent trade unions, organisations for human rights, youth and student associations, neighbourhood committees, citizen collectives, associations of the disappeared, intellectuals and political parties. They agreed on the creation of a National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, whose immediate objective is the lifting of the state of emergency and the opening up of the political and media arenas.

The coalition plans to organise a national march to push for the lifting of the state of emergency, and has called for collective action from all social actors to prevent Algeria descending into chaos and to push seriously and definitively for democratic change.

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