For the past fortnight, there has been speculation over whether the protests in Egypt which led to the resignation of its president, Hosni Mubarak, will produce a “domino effect” across the Arab world.
The latest sign of unrest is the decision by Algeria’s government to flood the streets of the capital, Algiers, with riot police to deter would-be protesters. “I am sorry to say the government has deployed a huge force to prevent a peaceful march. This is not good for Algeria’s image,” said Mustafa Bouchachi, a leader of the League for Human Rights.
Earlier today, crowds of people had attempted to defy the country’s ban on public protests – in place since a state of emergency was declared in 1992 – by marching from May 1 Square. Many chanted “Bouteflika out!” – a reference to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999 – although the rally’s organisers did not specifically call for his resignation.
Reuters reported that the march was not backed by the country’s trade unions, nor its banned Islamist groups, which still have influence at the grass roots.
Algeria has seen several protests in recent days, the last major one on 22 January. It was organised by the same group behind today’s action, the Rally for Culture and Democracy. The RCD is part of the National Co-ordination for Change and Democracy, a coalition of civil groups, campaigners and others.
In the past month, at least four Algerians have set themselves alight in protest against their government. And in early January, there were five days of rioting over high food prices and unemployment – two of the main factors behind the Egyptian unrest. Since then, the government has announced it will spend some of its oil wealth on subsidies to keep the cost of sugar and other staples down.