A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Aftermath of the Legislative Elections in Algeria: Women Made History and Hopes for True Change

Many thanks to Algerian journalist and blogger Kamel Mansari, who was kind enough to contribute a guest post to Maghreb Blog on last month's legislative elections in Algeria. 

Aftermath of the Legislative Elections in Algeria: Women Made History and Hopes for True Change
By Kamel Mansari*
ALGIERS -- A young man sits inside a crowded cafe here on a recent Thursday afternoon, watching Al Jazeera sports channel’s broadcast of a football  match between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, the semi-final of the European Champions’ league. He focuses on the plasma TV on the top of a counter where the waiter puts ashtrays to be emptied, before returning back to the packed and noisy tables. Kareem is mostly watching this match to admire the magic touches of his favorite French star, Franck Ribery, the Bayern’s player who embraced Islam and who is married to an Algerian.

In his early 20s, Kareem Mokhtari abandoned school five years ago and often sneaks into the cafe to find refuge. He is part of the unemployed masses of young people in Algeria, who watch football to escape their daily constraints and frustrations in Bab el-Oued, a district of the capital Algiers that was an Islamist stronghold in the 1990s. Dozens of civilians, including journalists, were killed in the district during that decade. While he is still watching his favorite player, the official Algerian TV channels broadcast the opening session of the newly elected parliament. Kareem has no idea what is going on the other side of the channels. The cafe owner knows that football is the air his clients breath besides cigarette smoke.

On May10, legislative elections were held in Algeria, and the turnout was low. Some 42 per cent of the voters showed up at the polls, according to the official figures. Kareem is among the thousands of young people who did not turn out to vote because they do not trust the politicians. Polls have shown young Algerians do not believe that elections could bring changes to their daily life. They still dream of leaving the country, but the economic crises in Europe or Canada and elsewhere in the West have frozen their will to leave.
“I did not vote. I don’t believe elections could ever change my life,” says Kareem while sipping his “goudron” a local name for a short espresso.  “Most of the members of the Parliament hone in on their own interests and future carriers”, Kareem says. Nepotism still happens in Algeria, with family members or friends of influential people receiving high-paying government jobs. “Nepotism and corruption still represent a huge obstacle to local development, and the government does little to fight it”, said Faycal Mataoui, a journalist at El Watan, one of the largest French-language newspapers in Algeria.

The government has taken on many huge projects such an East-West highway that cost US$20 billion, but the projects did not help the unemployment rate. Oil-rich Algeria is home to 36 million inhabitants. The country has US$300 billion in its coffers from oil production, but still 12 per cent are unemployed. The government tries to give loans to young people but most of the money is “hijacked by influential groups or given to people who are not unemployed.” Says Mataoui.

No Algeria Spring
Abdenour Ziani assumes that government loans attract greedy people, mafia groups or are spent on small businesses that do not generate high employment.
“The government has not been convincing during the past four years, that is why most of the Algerians hesitate to vote,” says Abdennour, who operates a retail shop in El Harrach, one of the most populous areas of Algiers. “Algeria has a pretty good chance to be a leading country in North Africa during a time where neighbouring countries are subject to turmoil in the aftermath of the Arab spring”, he said.

The Algerian Prime-Minister Ahmed Ouyahia admitted for the first time, on June 2nd, that Mafia money is controlling the biggest investments, a situation that may cause troubles in the country. The “Arab spring” did not knock at Algeria’s door. It has happened, indeed, years before in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco. On October 1988, riotous demonstrations and disturbances by Algerian youth led to the fall of the country's single-party system and the introduction of democratic and economic reform. But, in January 1992, the Army cancelled parliamentary elections that the Islamic salvation Front, an Islamist party, seemed set to win, paving the way to an unprecedented violence. Some 150,000 are believed to have been killed in a decade of violence.

The violence and chaos of the 1990s has left Algerians traumatic about echoing the upheavals in other Arab countries  “What happened during the 1990’s freezes hell. Algerians are upset but no one wants to revisit the tormenting years”, said Naim Zaidi, Professor of political science at the University of Algiers.

In the meantime, debates were heating up on Facebook between supporters of the soft democratic changes and the sceptics. A fan page called “vote or no vote”, created by a group of activists is receiving a deluge of comments. Khaled Merouani, an Algerian who is managing the page, says he is amazed by the number of visitors it attracts. “I was overwhelmed by the nature of the comments. Some were inflammatory against the government and against some public figures. I had to delete some in the beginning after some criticism, but now I am convinced the debate is healthy,” he said.

Many facebookers are accusing the president Abdel’aziz Bouteflika of not having the guts to make the right decisions to fight corruption and others simply believe he has done a great job by getting Algeria back to a stable situation. Last April, Bouteflika ensured that the country would go into further democratic reforms that includes authorizing private owned TV channels.  
Islamist Disillusion
In May’s election pro-government parties FLN and RND won the majority of the seats in the elections, but the opposition rejected the results saying the votes were rigged. Algeria's ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) has won 220 seats out of 462 seats. The National Democratic Rally (RND) placed second with 68 seats in the National People's Assembly, while the Islamist Alliance of Green Algeria came third with 48 seats. The Socialist Forces Front won 21 seats, followed closely by the Workers' Party with 20. Independent candidates took 19 seats, while the Algerian National Front and the Justice and Development Party won nine and seven seats respectively. The Islamists who ran a large campaign were the big losers. They were promising a sweeping victory in line with what happened in Tunisia, Morocco; but say there was huge electoral fraud in the voting. 
The local and parliament elections usually do not attract the voters the way a presidential election does. Most of them support Bouteflika but do not trust the parties. Bouteflika, 75, has been in office since 1999 and was re-elected twice, in 2004 and 2009.  He is believed to be sick since December 2005 when he had a stomach surgery in a military hospital in Paris. Bouteflika is expected to quit in 2014.

Women were the big winners. Some 146 women, a record number, were elected to the parliament. The proportion of women elected is higher than that in France, the United States or any other country in the West. Compared to other countries in the MENA region, women in Algeria are more active in policy through parties or local NGOs. Women electoral victory is believed to be an unexpected evolution in a country that is 99 per cent Muslim.
But many Algerians like Kareem still hold out hopes that real changes occur when they are provided with jobs and housing opportunities that are becoming rare in Algeria.

*Kamel Mansari is the editor-in-chief at Le Jeune Independent and prior to that he was deputy editor-in-chief at Ech-chorouk Arabic daily newspaper, and a reporter at the newswire service Algeria press service. He is also a TV correspondent and writes in Arabic, English and French for various international newspapers and websites.  He is also a journalism and multimedia strategist and trainer.


Milica Pesic said...

Dear Mohamed,

Ramadan Kareem.I've been searching the Net for Kamel Mansari, Algerian journalist/editor with whom we worked through our previous Magreb programme (run from Morocco, 2009-2011), but lost contact with. i've sent emails, SMSs, called all his numbers - nothing. So, Googled his name and got to your blog. the main reason why we are looking for Kamel is our Sept fact finding mission to Algeria as part of our MENA Strategy update. you can find more about us, Media Diversity Institute on www.media-diversity.org. happy to talk to you too about our plans. pls help me get in touch with Kamel. thanks, Milica (Pesic, Executive Dir).

Mohamed Daadaoui said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mohamed Daadaoui said...

Sure, I have his email address. Can you send me yours, please?

Milica Pesic said...

that's really great. Thanks so much, Mohamed. Here are all my details, including my email address, just for you to know who I am (we've been working in Morocco since 2009):
Milica Pesic, Executive Director
Media Diversity Institute
43-51 Great Titchfield Street
London W1W 7DA - Great Britain

Tel: +44 (0) 207 2552 473
Fax: +44 (0) 207 5808 597
Mobile: +44 (0) 7990971564
skype milicapesic / www.media-diversity.org
Best, Milica.