Algeria’s national ‘protesta’

By Hugh Roberts

The massive wave of protests that have engulfed Algeria and the recent unrest in Tunisia are both premised on a fundamental political deficit — the absence of credible political institutions capable of ensuring adequate representation of the society and so keeping the executive branch of the state under the kind of critical observation and pressure necessary to good government.

It has been widely suggested that the riots have been food or hunger riots, in that they were supposedly triggered by the steep increases in the prices of staple goods, notably sugar and olive oil. These increases were not decreed by the government; the private sector traders appear to have raised prices of their own accord, in reaction to the government’s attempts to impose new regulations on their transactions. The government’s decision was, in principle, part of the necessary and long overdue attempt to curb the rampant informal sector of the economy by subjecting the trade in foodstuffs to basic regulation and so bring it back into the formal sector. But if so, the government has clearly had no conception of the political difficulty and magnitude of this task and seems to have supposed that it could effect changes of this nature by simple ministerial fiat.

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