President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is finding that the usual methods of dealing with an unruly population no longer work. Most Algerians want Bouteflika and his corrupt cronies out of power. As long as Bouteflika still has the support of the security forces he can hang on, but as public anger grows that will spread to the soldiers and police, who have a better sense of the public mood than the wealthy and corrupt officials and businessmen who surround Bouteflika. This could get ugly and to avoid losing power the government offered to change the constitution to, in theory, give people more access to government decision making. Most Algerians see this another scam that provides the illusion of democracy while the reality is still rigged elections and bureaucrats doing what they want, not what the people need.
An example of the intensity of the public anger can be seen down south in the
oasis town of Ghardaia
. Over the last three months the government has gradually sent more than 10,000 additional police to deal with the persistent unrest. In
Ghardaia the violence between Arab and Berber residents is all about water rights, jobs, land, ethnicity and religion. Arabs also accuse the 800,000 Berbers in the south of supporting al Qaeda. The unrest has been going on since late December. Over a hundred people have been arrested and there have been over 200 casualties (including at least 13 dead). Over a hundred building has been burned down along with dozens of vehicles. Thousands have fled the city and many businesses stay closed for days or weeks at a time. The police, who are largely Arab, are accused of being biased against the Berbers. The ethnic tensions in this area, 600 kilometers south of the capital, have been growing since 2008 and there was another outbreak of violence in October 2013 that was put down. As bad as the ethnic tensions have been there are also disagreements over religion. The Arabs belong to the Maliki school of Islam while the Berbers are largely from the smaller Ibadi sect. About 30 percent of Algerians are Berber, but the percentage is higher in the south. Ghardaia is an ancient Berber city of 90,000 that contains many Ibadi shrines. The province Ghardaia is in is on the edge of the Sahara Desert and contains only 200,000 people.
Arabs got the unrest started by desecrating some of these shrines. This led to violent Berber reprisals, especially when images of the damage appeared on the Internet. The government is concerned for several reasons. For one thing there are oil fields are nearby. Worse, the sustained unrest among the Berbers could be the first breeze in an uprising that could engulf the entire country. The government has seen this ill wind coming for some time. The tensions in Ghardaia continue and more violence is expected, especially before the presidential election on April 17th.
Algeria has taken a lead role in the international effort to make it illegal to pay ransoms to Islamic terrorists. Having suffered from Islamic terrorists for over two decades, Algeria has ample evidence that ransoms paid to Islamic terrorists simply leads to more kidnappings and murders. In short, paying ransom in general is counter-productive although each kidnapping is very much a tragedy for those involved. Algeria has made a lot of progress in getting African nations to outlaw the payment of ransoms. In making its case Algeria points out that a third of the kidnappings by Islamic terrorists takes place in Africa. It’s no secret that the Islamic terrorists consider large ransoms a major source of income needed to finance more terrorism. While the logic is impeccable, in practice it’s difficult to stop the ransoms from being paid.
March 21, 2014: In the capital 5,000 people assembled in a sports stadium to hear secular and Islamic conservative politicians denounce the decision by the 77 year old president to run for a fourth term. President Bouteflika is still recovering from a stroke and has been inept at managing the economy, corrupt and ruthless in crippling political opponents but quite competent when it comes to rigging elections. Bouteflika is unpopular and Algerians are becoming bolder and louder in their protests. The government believes that using more force against the protestors might trigger more resistance and possibly even armed resistance.
March 19, 2014: About a hundred kilometers east of the capital (in the largely Berber Kabylie region) an army patrol encountered and killed three Islamic terrorists.
March 17, 2014: In the southern city of
Ghardaia weekend violence between Arabs and Berbers left three dead and dozens wounded.
Just across the border in northwest Tunisia troops clashed with some Islamic terrorists and killed three of them. Another four had been killed in a similar clash in February. Algeria has increased security on the Tunisian border over the last year to keep Islamic terrorists based in Tunisia out of Algeria.
Some 500 kilometers east of the capital, on the Algerian side of the Tunisian border a police raid caught up with nine Islamic terrorists, killing three and arresting the rest. Some of them were Tunisian but most were Algerian. The mountains and forests on the border have long been a hideout for smugglers, bandits and Islamic terrorists.
March 14, 2014: Near the Tunisian border soldiers attacked a group of Islamic terrorists that were sneaking in from Tunisia. When confronted on the road the Islamic terrorists fled their vehicles and tried to escape into the forest. Troops pursued and killed seven of them. The troops seized seven rifles, 3,600 rounds of ammo, grenades, radios and night vision gear as well as two vehicles.
One of those was later identified as a senior Islamic terrorist leader who has been wanted since the 1990s.
Another Islamic terrorist was killed a hundred kilometers east of the capital.
March 12, 2014: In the capital police disrupted an anti-government protest and dispersed the 60 or so demonstrators. Police said the demonstration was illegal. According to the government just about every hostile demonstration is illegal. But people keep coming out.
March 8, 2014: Officials from Mali and Algeria met in Algeria to work out ways the two countries could improve security on their mutual border. Mali is being very cooperative because they want the border reopened. Algeria closed the official border crossings in January 2013 to make it more difficult for Islamic terrorists to get into Algeria from Mali. This shut down trade and that hurt Mali more than Algeria. Meanwhile Algeria sent more troops to the border area and went after the smugglers and others trying to cross illegally. Mali is willing to coordinate efforts to secure the border and if a mutually agreeable deal can be worked out the border will reopen.
March 5, 2014: East of the capital (the Kabylie region) police at a checkpoint, fearing an attack by Islamic terrorists, fired on a car that would not stop in the pre-dawn darkness. The four people in the vehicle turned out to be innocent civilians but the gunfire killed one of them and wounded two others. It’s unclear why they did not stop. There are few incidents like because it’s widely known that the soldiers and police will open fire if you don’t stop. The last incident like this happened in 2011 when two people were killed at a checkpoint.
March 4, 2014: The government ordered 42 M-28N helicopter gunships and four Mi-26T2 heavy transports from Russia for $2.7 billion.
March 2, 2014: East of the capital (the Kabylie region) police raided a terrorist hideout and killed three Islamic terrorists.
March 1, 2014: In the capital police blocked and dispersed another anti-government demonstration.