x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 November 2017

Half a century after revolution, Algeria is in crisis

Algeria yesterday marked 50 years since gaining independence from France but the celebrations come amid tough times for the country.

An historical musical, The Hero, staged at Sidi Fredj, the site of the French landing in 1830, launched Algeria’s official festivities to mark 50 years since gaining independence from France.
An historical musical, The Hero, staged at Sidi Fredj, the site of the French landing in 1830, launched Algeria’s official festivities to mark 50 years since gaining independence from France.

ALGIERS // Algeria yesterday marked 50 years since gaining independence from France with pomp and fireworks - as the media gave a critical assessment of its economic performance five decades after the revolution.

The celebrations kicked off on Wednesday night with a huge open-air performance inspired by the liberation struggle, followed by nationwide fireworks displays. More festivities are planned throughout the year.

After attending the historical musical The Hero at the seaside resort of Sidi Fredj, where the French landed in 1830, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika yesterday visited a memorial to hundreds of thousands of "martyrs" in Algiers.

Mr Bouteflika, 75, who took part in the war for liberation, placed a wreath of flowers at the shrine, which overlooks the bay of Algiers. He later chaired a ceremony for new army graduates.

Another fireworks display was to light up the skies over the monument last night.

But the celebrations come amid tough times for Algeria, where unemployment tops 20 per cent. Hardest hit is the youth, representing two thirds of the population.

Five decades after gaining its independence, Algeria is facing critics who accuse authorities of failing to tap the country's wealthy oil and gas resources to develop the North African nation and achieve true democracy.

The French-language daily Le Soir summed up the mood of critics with a front-page report headlined:"From hope to sordid reality" that listed Algeria's shortcomings.

The newspaper said Algeria had moved from revolution to socialism and then plunged into "anarchy", followed by a political "bazaar" and then a "ruthless civil war" between 1992 and 2000.

An editorial in Liberte went on to say Algeria "never savoured the victory of liberation" and fell into the grips of "power-thirsty clans".

Yesterday's newspapers agreed that Algeria's worst shortcoming was, and remains, its inability to steer the nation away from dependence on oil and gas, which account for 97 per cent of export earnings.

Algeria has failed to develop its industrial sector, which last year represented a mere five per cent of gross domestic product.

Small and medium-sized business published a letter in the press addressed to Mr Bouteflika, urging him to help them revive the economy by easing red-tape and bureaucracy that plague the country.

Job-seekers gathered yesterday in central Algiers to demonstrate but were dispersed by the police. "At least three of them were detained and taken to a police station," the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights said.

"Among the protesters were unemployed people who came from across the country to raise awareness about their situation," it added, calling for the immediate release of those detained.

The blogger Tarek Mameri said "dozens" had rallied.

Mr Bouteflika this year launched political reforms after bloody riots one and a half years ago and a series of strikes at the time the Arab Spring swept through neighbouring Tunisia and Libya.

But experts say the political elite that emerged from the national liberation war is getting old and the political system is increasingly obsolete.