On 2 May, unprecedented scenes of rioting in the streets of Algiers pitted two groups of professionals against each other in a tense confrontation. Squads of firemen brandished placards bearing demands, while being beaten up and turned away by squads of riot police.
Arranged in compact cordons, the forces of law and order sealed off the headquarters of the General Directorate of Civil Protection, where the firefighters intended to organise a sit-in protest.
Algeria witnesses such confrontations practically every day, with an increasingly febrile political and social climate.
Sporadic protest movements
In Algeria, protest movements currently number in the hundreds, perhaps even in the thousands. The phenomenon of blocked roads is now a part of everyday life. Not a single day goes by where a road isn’t closed off so that protestors can make their demands for social housing, jobs, gas or the completion of a particular project.
Recently, 14 education unions announced a three-day strike on 9, 10 and 11 May, as well as demonstrations in front of education directorates across the country, with the aim of “improving teachers’ purchasing power.”
But the situation has already been going on for several weeks. On 12 April, on the eve of Ramadan, Algérie Poste workers went on strike for a week. They demanded that their bonuses be paid, denounced “their supervisor’s unfulfilled promises” and insisted that their demands, some of which date back to 2003, be met.
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A few days earlier, a strike led by health workers had already paralysed all the country’s hospitals. The strikers protested the non-payment of their Covid-19 bonus. They had also demanded better working conditions as well as a salary increase. The Algerian medical profession has been severely affected by the ongoing pandemic, with several hundred medical staff have lost their lives as a result of Covid-19.
To address this worrying situation, Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune called on 2 May for a “dialogue to be held with all union partners.”
Since the beginning of the year, consumer goods such as oil, pasta and dried vegetables have seen a sharp rise in prices. The price of chicken, for example, which most low- and middle-income households fall back on, has almost doubled.
Long queues to get a bag of milk or a can of subsidised oil have reappeared. The lack of cash in post offices is already forcing thousands of pensioners and low-income workers to queue for hours to withdraw their meagre funds. Because of the drought, the supply of drinking water is already being rationed in many districts of Algiers.
The pavements and sides of the national roads have thus become huge markets for consumer goods such as clothes, fruit, vegetables, eggs and poultry.
The state’s decision to devalue the dinar is having a severe impact. In December 2020, the Cercle d’Action et de Réflexion sur l’Entreprise (CARE) noted that, over the last 10 years, the Algerian currency had already fallen in value by 77%.
Algeria is suffering not only from the effects of the health crisis but also due to the brutal fall in oil prices. To cope with the collapse of its foreign exchange earnings, Algeria is trying to reduce its import bill as best it can, even if it means creating shortages of certain products in many sectors.
The continuous erosion of purchasing power, unemployment – the rate of which is close to 14% – and inflation (2.4% in 2020) has led to the impoverishment of the most fragile social strata. According to the national delegate for major risks at the Ministry of the Interior, the country has lost no less than 500,000 direct jobs since the beginning of the health crisis. Some 25,000 construction companies have closed, throwing 200,000 workers out of work, according to the president of the Association Générale des Entrepreneurs Algériens.
In addition to this already bleak picture, “Hirak” and web activists have been arrested in large numbers. On 7 May, thousands of Algerians took to the streets again to demand change and the establishment of a “civil and not military state.”
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