Austerity policies could trigger social explosion in Algeria

Authorities can no longer buy social peace
Wednesday 03/06/2020
An Algerian housewife prepares a meal inside her kitchen in Algiers. (AFP)
An Algerian housewife prepares a meal inside her kitchen in Algiers. (AFP)

ALGIERS--Algerian authorities failed in their attempts to buy social peace and contain the worsening situation of discontented Algerians despite attempts at coping with effects of the pandemic on needy social groups.

The announcement made by the council of ministers, chaired last Sunday by President of the Republic Abdelmadjid Tebboune, confirmed this failure.

The council decided the gradual lifting of lockdown in the sector of building and public works according to a plan developed by the Prime minister’s Office in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the scientific Committee, reported Algerian news agency APS.

 

It was also decided to examine with trade unions and business groups “the appropriate means of gradually lifting the lockdown for some trades and commercial activities, where there is a low risk of Covid-19 spreading, in addition to activities with a direct impact on citizens’ lives” as well as “possibilities to support affected small traders, including their possible partial exemption from taxes”.

Many Algerians were not impressed. They felt that that except for allowing the gradual return of some activities such as construction and public works, and the $ 70 grant allocated for merchants and craftsmen, the announced measures are modest, and do not meet the needs and concerns of many social groups.

The new authority in Algeria has been seeking to restore calm and stability to the street, by implementing a political and social agenda through which it hopes to end the situation of turmoil. But the measures are not exactly working.

The Algerian government is in fact worried about an imminent social explosion, especially after the new package of measures came into effect and the Parliament ratified the supplementary finance law.

The steep decline in the country’s income after the collapse of oil prices in global markets has left the authorities in a tough predicament as it could no longer continue the policy of buying social peace. Even the steps it has taken have not helped shore up social stability.

By putting the burden again on the population as it introduced a package of taxes and fees and raised the prices of gasoline and diesel, the government rekindled social anger instead of defusing it.

Observers do not exclude the possibility of seeing those who suffer the most from poverty trigger the next big explosion. The revolution of the hungry will come as a result of the terrible decline in purchasing power, increasing prices, exacerbation of unemployment rates, and decline in the quality of services.

This will people to regret the peacefulness of the Hirak movement that has lasted for more than a year without violence although it remained unable to reach a positive outcome.

Since the presidential elections that took place last December, the regime went to impose its grip on activities run by various members of opposition parties and activists. Many of became prisoners of conscience. The most notorious case was the arrest of the leader of the Democratic and Social Union, Karim Tabbou, who was charged with “sapping the army’s morale” last year after criticizing the late army chief, Ahmed Gaed Salah. Tabbou remains one of the most prominent figures in the Hirak protest movement. His trial was delayed to the end of June.

Last Sunday, the People’s National Assembly (the lower chamber of the Algerian Parliament) approved the supplementary finance bill, immediately after the Algerian government introduced additional taxes. This step added to the tensions reflected by rejection of the move by many parliamentary blocs. Explicit warnings were issued to the government about the repercussions of the said law on social stability.

Algerian parliamentarian Lakhdar Bin Khalaf, who is part of the Islamist coalition, considered the supplementary finance bill a step that will provoke Algerian citizens who are already resentful of the financial and fiscal pressure the government exerts.

Ramdane-Youssef Tazibt, an official at Algeria’s Workers’ Party who stepped down from the parliament in solidarity and support for the protest movement, stressed in a press statement that the supplementary finance bill is an exact carbon copy of the same laws that Bouteflika’s regime has produced during the past few years. He says that no change has occurred in the Algerian regime as some claim.

The bill included many unpopular measures as it will lead to an increase in the price of fuel, affecting the cost of transportation, agriculture, and industrial activities. The bill also adds to citizens’ tax burden, exacerbates inflation, and causes a further decline in the purchasing power.