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Is A New Arab Spring Simmering In Algeria?

In a rare appearance, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika meeting last February with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi.
In a rare appearance, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika meeting last February with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

OUED EL MA — High tensions persist in Algeria, a week after police and security forces violently cracked down on protests in the impoverished central town of Oued El Ma. Algiers-based daily El Watan reports that the violent crackdown laid waste to houses and businesses and left the town largely devastated, and what the daily describes as a "under shock."

The town erupted in anti-government protest after the cancellation of a long-awaited project to build a solar panel factory in the predominantly agricultural region, meant to bring jobs to the legions of unemployed youth.

The protests began as a general strike on January 19th against the decision to transfer the project to the city of Djelfa, before degenerating into an attack on the local prison, which drew live ammunition from local police.

News site Le Matin d'Algerie writes that the national gendarmerie was called in to suppress the protests, which spread to neighboring towns and continued for four days even while going largely unreported in the national press.

Locals reported being beaten by the police, with numerous reports of assaults on bystanders and raids on several homes. The heavy-handed repression in Oued El Ma, both of protesters and other villagers, has now caused indignation across the country.

Oil-rich Algeria saw riots and protests in 2011, but unlike its Arab Spring neighbors — notably Tunisia — the government maintained control through a combination of repression and public subsidies.

The one-party state, led by the National Liberation Front (FLN) since independence in 1962, has remained in power through populist measures and an ever-present state security apparatus, wielded by a select elite commonly known as le pouvoir, "the power."

Rising food prices contributed to the crisis in 2011, which was inflamed by an initially aggressive crackdown that eventually died down with the removal of a decades-old state of emergency and an increase in food supplies.

But in recent months, the collapse in the price of oil has deepened an already dire economic situation in the country — inflation has risen to 4.8% and youth unemployment is at a staggering 29.9% — and the overzealous police response could be seen as a sign to prevent protests against the regime from spreading across the country.

According to Jeune Afrique, the ailing 78-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has become increasingly marginalized by the armed forces after more than 16 years in power. He is rarely ever seen in public and doubts persists over whether he is still the leading authority in the country. The behind-the-scenes power struggle — combined with the country's economic woes — could create a perfect storm for unrest.

According to El Watan, Algerians have increasingly taken to the streets to vent their frustration with the authorities' failure to address the myriad problems facing their country. Oued El Ma is the epicenter of what could become a new national wave of protests, particularly if the uncertainty over succession in the regime continues.

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What To Do With The Complainers In Your Life — Advice From A South American Shrink

Argentines love to complain. But when you listen to others who complain, there are options: must we be a sponge to this daily toxicity or should we, politely, block out this act of emotional vandalism?

Photo of two men talking while sitting at a table at a bar un Buenos Aires, with a poster of Maradona on the wall behind them.

Talking in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Martín Reynoso*

BUENOS AIRESArgentina: the land of complainers. Whether sitting in a taxi, entering a shop or attending a family dinner, you won't escape the litany of whingeing over what's wrong with the country, what's not working and above all, what we need!

We're in an uneasy period of political change and economic adjustments, and our anxious hopes for new and better leaders are a perfect context for this venting, purging exercise.

Certain people have a strangely stable, continuous pattern of complaining: like a lifestyle choice. Others do it in particular situations or contexts. But what if we are at the receiving end? I am surprised at how complaints, even as they begin to be uttered and before they are fully formulated, can disarm and turn us into weak-willed accomplices. Do we have an intrinsic need to empathize, or do we agree because we too are dissatisfied with life?

Certainly, agreeing with a moaner may strengthen our social or human bonds, especially if we happen to share ideas or political views. We feel part of something bigger. Often it must seem easier to confront reality, which can be daunting, with this type of "class action" than face it alone.

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