Algeria

Amandeep Sandhu ssandhu at SPAMinterchange.ubc.ca
Wed Aug 18 13:06:24 MDT 1999



Hello George,

I did a reprt on Algeria a short while ago. I will attach a section of it.

Political Economy of the Algerian Crisis

State Policy and Language Travails

There is a bifurcation of elites and masses along the lines of language
they speak: French and Arabic, respectively. The militants among Islamist
have waged a war against the French language. They associate French with
the West. In so doing, they draw parallels between their on-going fight
and Algeria's anti-colonial struggle against the French in 1950s and
1960s. The Islamists take pleasure in saying that though the french have
gone back to France they have left behind their 'children;' children being
a reference to the Algerian elites who live a highly Gallicized lifestyle
(Ciment 24).

In Algeria, French remains the language of commerce, and those schooled in
Arabic--that is, the majority of students--suffer most in the keen
competition for jobs (Waltz, 98). This situation is getting even more
worse with every passing day. The universities in Algeria have been
heavily 'Arabized' as a way to quell the social discontent arising from
the Arabic speaking population of Algeria who form the majority of
Algerian population (Nali 141). Cosequently, the universities and other
educational institutions produce graduates trained in Arabic language. But
in the job-market there is demand, if any, for people who are trained in
French language. This leads to a build-up of surplus labor force that is
already swelling at the margins of Algerian society.

This language divide, between French-speakers and Arabic-speakers, also
leads to ethnic divisons among Berbers and Arabs in Algeria. Although both
Arabs and Berbers follow Islam, they are divided along language lines.
Berbers, who trace their origins to Latin-Christian civilization, speak
either their own indigenous language, <I>Imazighen, or French, whereas
Arabs speak Arabic. This language divide influences the access of these
communities to material resources, especially the jobs in civil service,
which incidently is the largest employer of workers in Algeria (Nashashibi
et al 36).

Historically, Berbers have been overrepresented in civil services. French,
during their colonial rule, played the card of divide-and-rule to prevent
any solidarity among Berbers and Arabs (Nali 145). These differences,
although a product of colonial rule, still fester in the Algerian society
today. Berbers, as compared to Arabs, are present in civil services in
higher proportions. Consequently, these civil servants see the threat of
the ascendance of an Islamic government in terms of cultural threat. That
is, Arabic threat to the Beber culture. As a result, the Berber civil
servants favor an all-out state policy to eradicate the Islamists. There
are, then, clear vested interests in states machinery that are in support
of an extreme approach to solving the 'Islamist problem.'


Economy of War: Winners and Losers


Some scholars argue that the seeds of the present turmoil in Algeria lie
in the path that Algeria's ruling party, FLN, followed after the
achievement of indpendence from France (Malley 23; Hammoudi and Schaar
147). They, in particluar, blame the one-party state model adopted by the
FLN in the aftermath of the anti-colonial struggle. Put somewhat
differently, they point to the germination of a <I>nomenklatura<I> from
the rank of FLN as the main reason for the build-up of mass social
discontent that lead Algeria, ultimately, to the present quagmire. These
scholars see the 1991 overwhelming vote in favor of FIS as a protest vote
against the bankrupt policies of FLN goverment rather than as a vote in
favor of Islamists.

This viewpoint of present situation is confirmed by a number of factors.
Firslty, there are extensive evidence that points towards a build-up of
mass discontent among Algerian's. This discontent peaked with the 1988
riots against the governing regime. As a consequence of these riots, the
ruling regime legalized the multi-party political system (Willis 223). The
real power, however, still stayed with the FLN elite and a cotorie of army
officers. The democratic opening created by the legalization of
multi-party system helped in the formation of FIS as an openly Islamist
party and this, in turn, created the ground-work for the coup against the
electoral victory of Islamists.

Secondly, the Algerian state has given up on its function of social
welfare by abandoning the masses to the vagaries of tenous life
conditions. For instance, in the wake of an earthquake in 1988,
extra-institutional organizations or groupings picked up where the state
left off, delivering emergency aid to disaster victims, or free medicine,
schoool equipment, educational support, and administrative advice (Malley
234). All in all, these actions contributed to the creation of an
embryonic countersociety based on competing ties, loyalities and beliefs.

Relative deprivation among masses was and is really high. On the one hand,
there is a small minority of elite, called <I)emirs<I> in Algeria, who
have access to opulenence unknown in Algeria. While, on the other hand,
there is a huge majority of population that is on or near subsitence
level. The unemployment rate in Algeria is quite staggering: 30 percent of
Algerians are unemployed (Nashashibi et al 16). Add to this the number of
people who have even stopped looking for work, and you get a nation where
every one in three person is out of work. This rate of unemployment,
moreover, is only going to get far more worse in the aftermath of
structural reform program that is currently being implemented by IMF
(Nashashibi et al 42-43).

Unemployment situation is especially bad among the youth. In Algeria the
umemployed are mainly under 25-years of age, typically remain unemployed
for one year, mostly live in urban areas and tend to have at least a
secondry education (Nashashibi et al 46). Even for those who are employed,
the rate of social mobility is really low. All these conditions point to a
scenario where surplus labor is abundant; as well, so is the surplus
population. Something is needed to keep this population in line with the
social order. The state-sponsored violence could be the source of such
social control. If these youths are kept in fear of the regime--by making
up examples of those who do stand up against the regime--they will not
venture to demand either their rights or the rights of others.
Resultingly, the elites can keep on making their profits from this labor
pool of docile labor.

Some of the killings in Algeria are killed to intra-elite rivalries.
'Algerians are convinced,' says Faycal Karabadji, 'that some of the
killings attributed to armed Islamic groups are linked to rivalries in
international trade (Karabadji 11). Luis Martinez reaches a similar
conclusions. He arges that the guerrillas rather than attacking the
strategic targets, such as oil and gas pipelines or hydrocarbon
installations, are concentrating on public companies in deficit, even the
once in bankruptcy (2). In many of these cases of industrial violence
there is a parallel relationships with the privitization of these
concerns. That is, if a factory or installation is targeted by
guerrilla's, and thus ends up as damaged, it eventually is privitized by
the Algerian state. In fact, Martinez gives examples of a cement factory
owned by Algerian state that was privitized after an attack by guerilla's
and is presently the sole supplier of cement for Algerian governemtn
(ibid).

Further, the top military elites are implicated in a number of commercial
ventures that benefit them materially. According to Waltz, army officers
have benefitted from state-assigned salaries and an independent corporate
base of wealth (90). Since independence, for exmaple, the army has
controlled a number of formerly French farms and small enterprises.
Especially at the upper echelons of the officer corps, there is
considerable mobility, and material comforts are assured (Waltz 91).
Therefore, the military elites have a very vested interest in using
violence to stall any political attempt that may endeavor to take away
these benefits from them. In fact, Martha Crenshaw argues that even the
initial impulse within army for a coup against the FIS victory came from
the fact that the army was concerned about their positions and privileges
(271).

The present politcal economic situations in Algeria is not pointing to any
bright spot any time soon. The population growth in Algeria is further
stressing the tenous health of economy. In recent times, especially in the
post-independence period, the resident population has more than doubled,
rising from nine million in 1962 to 23 million in 1987. (Illes 93). In the
past few years, however, the birth rate has begun a downward shift, but
the impact on overall population growth is likely to be slight indeed,
because morality rates are also expected to dip, especially among the
younger age groups (Illes 93). All this indicates that the powerful upward
thrust of Algeria's population is going to be a basic fact of life all the
way into the 21st century. Every development policy will have to cope with
that reality.

The increasing exenditure on concerns other than social welfare is further
worsening the situation in Algeria. The military expenditue of the
Algerian State has gone up considerably (See table 1).

But what if this violence is no more than a smokescreen concealing another
kind of violence, one that is rotting the country to the bone? Who bothers
to look at the country's agriculture, the public health infrastructure,
the roads and railways, the water shortages, the return of diptheria and
kala-azar, at the galloping destitution (Zaoui 44)?


Amandeep












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