Wednesday 02 February 2011
By Harriet Alexander, The Telegraph (UK)
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has ruled the country since 1999, was elected on the promise to end the violence that had plagued the country for much of its history since independence from France in 1962.
To a certain extent he has succeeded, and after years of political upheaval the country is beginning to emerge as a centre of enterprise, heavily assisted by the country’s huge oil and gas reserves. It has estimated oil reserves of nearly 12 billion barrels, attracting strong interest from foreign oil firms.
However, poverty remains a serious problem and unemployment high, particularly among Algeria’s youth. Almost 50 per cent of Algeria’s 34.6 million people are under 25, and the youthful population coupled with a lack of jobs has made Algeria something of a simmering cauldron. Endemic government corruption and poor standards in public services are also chronic sources of popular dissatisfaction.
Mounting grievances over spiralling costs and unemployment triggered the riots earlier this month, encouraged by public protests in Tunisia that forced its president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee.
On Monday a third Algerian died from self-immolation, while another tried to set himself alight Sunday, adding to a grim tally of Tunisia-inspired acts.
The incident on Sunday, in the capital Algiers, marked the 10th attempted self-immolation since January 12.
Syrians are organising campaigns on Facebook and Twitter that call for a “day of rage” in Damascus this week, taking inspiration from Egypt and Tunisia in using social networking sites to rally their followers for sweeping political reforms.
Like Egypt and Tunisia, Syria suffers from corruption, poverty and unemployment. All three nations have seen subsidy cuts on staples like bread and oil. Syria’s authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad has resisted calls for political freedoms and jailed critics of his regime.
On Sunday a group of 39 activists and opposition figures issued a statement hailing Egypt and Tunisia’s protesters, but Mr Assad has shown no signs of flinching.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Mr Assad said Syria was “immune” from the turmoil affecting Egypt and Tunisia.
“We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries, but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people,” Mr Assad said.
“If you did not see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and in Tunisia, it is too late to do any reform,” he was quoted as saying.
“If you do it just because of what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, then it is going to be a reaction, not an action and … you are going to fail.”
Mr Assad, a 45-year-old British-trained eye doctor, inherited power from his father, Hafez, in 2000, after three decades of authoritarian rule.
He has since moved slowly to lift Soviet-style economic restrictions, letting in foreign banks, throwing the doors open to imports and empowering the private sector.
But Mr Assad has not matched liberal economics with political reforms and critics of the regime are routinely locked up, drawing an outcry from international human rights groups.
He is seen by many Arabs, however, as one of the few leaders in the region willing to stand up to arch enemy Israel. And his support for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups opposed to the Jewish state as well as his opposition to the invasion of Iraq has won him more support among his people than other Arab rulers.
Yemen’s president, facing demands that he resign, has called for a meeting of parliament and the consultative council, as the opposition has declared that it is “too late” for dialogue and that he must go.
Ali Abdullah Saleh is expected to address the special meeting ahead of a “day of rage” that civil society organisations have called for Thursday.
Facing protests that have multiplied since the mid-January ouster of Tunisia’s president, Mr Saleh has taken measures aimed at soothing popular discontent.
President Ali Abdallah Saleh has been in power since 1978. The authority of the central government has been challenged by southern separatists, northern rebels and al-Qaeda militants, and has recently been rocked by events in Tunisia and Egypt.
On Monday, after increasing wages and reducing incomes taxes, he ordered the creation of a fund to employ university graduates and to extend social security coverage. He also decided to exempt university students from the rest of their tuition fees for this academic year, and charged the high council of universities to reduce the cost of a degree.
A governing body of Mr Saleh’s General People’s Congress party called on Friday for a resumption of dialogue with opposition parties, which are currently at an impasse.
Yemenis are now calling for “changing the regime and the ouster of the president.”
Yemen is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Middle East.