Algeria: Reformers Getting Played

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February 15, 2011: The country is still under a "state of emergency" (a form of martial law) that has been in force since 1992 (the start of the war with Islamic radicals that largely ended a decade ago). The government says it will end the state of emergency this week, as a way to quiet people down. While Tunisia and Egypt had large demonstrations recently that drove their dictators out of power, this is not working in Algeria, at least not yet. Algeria has been having smaller demonstrations for years, which have been too small to shake the government. The complaints are the same ones (unemployment and corruption) that caused unrest in Tunisia and Egypt. But the protestors have not been able to form the large crowds that police could not contain. Algeria has had more smaller demonstrations for a longer period, and the government has learned how to contain these. The government has also managed to keep the main opposition groups divided over the issue of large demonstrations. The main trade unions and legal Islamic groups have refused, so far, to back large demonstrations or strikes.

The government has an advantage over the recently deposed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt; Algeria has more oil money and larger, well paid, and battle tested security forces. These advantages have, so far, enabled the government to prevent the popular dissatisfaction with the government from reaching a critical mass on the streets. But the government also knows that most Algerians hate their rulers, and want to replace them with an attempt at real democracy. The outcome remains in doubt.

Next door in Tunisia, the formation of a new government leads many to believe that the same old crew of crooks will remain in charge. An increasing number of Tunisians are trying to migrate (illegally) to Europe.

There is growing fear that Islamic terrorists are trying to establish new base areas in the Sahel (the thousand kilometer wide, semi-desert area south of the Sahara, from the Atlantic coasts of  Senegal and Mauritania, through Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, to the Indian Ocean in Somalia and Eritrea. The Algerian branch of al Qaeda has largely moved to southern (Sahara desert and Sahel) bases. Led by Abdelhamid Abu Zeid (the "emir of the south"), these terrorists have struck it rich with kidnapping Europeans and guarding cocaine shipments to Europe. This flood of cash is buying protection in the south (tribes and government officials can be bribed) and more resources for terror attacks in the north (where most Algerians live, along the Mediterranean coast). The bad news (for the terrorists) is that all this money breeds corruption within the terrorist organization as well. This has always been a problem with al Qaeda, especially when there was a lot of money available. Moslem, and especially Arab, countries are very corrupt, and the terrorist organizations these cultures spawn are no different. This despite the fact that Islamic radicals preach the elimination of corruption. Many of those who preach this, are unable, or unwilling, to practice it when temptation comes along. Al Qaeda in the Sahel is bringing in over $5 million a year. The few hundred al Qaeda down there are hiring more gunmen, and trying to convert these guys to the cause. But the tribesmen down there are wary of these fanatic city boys from the north. They take the money and keep the Islamic terrorists at a distance.

The U.S. and France are trying to discreetly help Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania (as well as Djiboutis, Ethiopians and Somalis in the east) deal with the problems al Qaeda has introduced. As outlaws, al Qaeda is hostile to all these local governments. If al Qaeda were not concentrating on its drug and kidnapping business, it would be trying to overthrow these governments and impose a religious dictatorship. But this did not work in Algeria, and it definitely would not work with these Sahel  nations. The Sahel states are more diverse and less well organized. And they are generally hostile to al Qaeda, and even some of the rebellious tribes give the Islamic terrorist groups a hard time. But money, guns and religious fanaticism are a potent combination. France and the U.S. are providing aerial and electronic surveillance to find out exactly where al Qaeda is hiding, while both nations also provide training for local troops, as well as new equipment. The U.S. and France would like to send their own commandos in to do the job, but this is very unpopular with the local governments, which are all Islamic and fundamentally hostile to non-Moslem soldiers operating in their midst. The Sahel has always been a frontier area, thinly populated and lightly ruled. Cash and guns gives you a lot more power and freedom-of-action in frontier areas than in more densely populated, and heavily policed places like northern Algeria.

February 14, 2011: Democracy demonstrations took place in the capital and several smaller cities and towns. But none were so large that the security forces could not handle them.

February 12, 2011: The government has cut off Internet access for Algerians, to try and hinder the organization of larger demonstrations. Some 30,000 troops and police have been moved to the capital to deal with any large demonstrations.

February 7, 2011:  The government has banned a large demonstration in the capital, planned for the 12th.

February 2, 2011: An Italian woman tourist, along with her driver and tour guide, was kidnapped in the southwestern Sahel are of Algeria. Thousands of other foreign tourists proceeded to flee Algeria (which had implemented new security measures to reassure tourists, whose spending provides at least 50,000 jobs.) The kidnappers were apparently al Qaeda related (although many bandits in the south have taken up kidnapping.)

January 29, 2011: Several large demonstrations (one with as many as 10,000 people) took place, mainly outside the capital, and in areas, particularly those with large numbers of Berbers, that have always been more hostile to the government. There were sufficient security forces to contain these demonstrations.

 

 

 

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