ALGIERS, Sept 5, 2012 (AFP) -
ALGIERS, Sept 5, 2012 (AFP) –
After months of political inertia, Algeria’s newly appointed cabinet faces a raft of social problems, including joblessness, poor housing and ongoing water cuts, which threaten to aggravate
And there is to be no honeymoon for the new government team, which was announced on Tuesday.
Just hours later the FNSC workers’ federation, which is affiliated to the main civil servants’ union SNAPAP, launched an eight-day strike.
Although the work stoppage has not been universally embraced, it reflects the frustration of ordinary Algerians at trying to get themselves heard by the ruling elite, and the ever-present threat of industrial action.
“We are launching an appeal to Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, whom we wish every success in his new job, to consider our file,” which contains salary demands, a local daily quoted FNSC president Ait Khalifa Ezzeddine as saying on Wednesday.
Amid soaring commodity prices, which hit 8.7 percent in June before the big-spending holy month of Ramadan started in July, energy-rich Algeria also suffers bread and power shortages, ongoing housing complaints and chronic unemployment.
In a country where 70 percent of the 37 million population is under 35, one youth in five is without work, according to the national statistics office.
And the rate of under employment in the same 16-to-24-year-old age group stands at 17.7 percent.
Sellal appeared to recognise the size of the task he faced, shortly after his appointment was announced on Monday, saying: “We have our work cut out for us.”
But William Lawrence, the North Africa director of think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG), said he believes the likelihood of major government policy changes to confront Algeria’s “massive” social problems are slim.
“There is always a chance that the new prime minister and the new government will bring with them a new mandate for change,” he told AFP.
“But I would say the odds are against it. All the indications are that Algeria has been getting more conservative in recent years… (and) these are largely the same people who have been in the government all along.”
Parliamentary elections were held in May, but it took four months to form a new cabinet, which paralysed Algerian politics. And, in the end, the key foreign, energy, interior and finance ministers all kept their jobs.
Economics expert Abderrahmane Metboul also predicted that there would be “no change in economic policy.”
The government’s main objective, he said, was to prepare for the presidential elections in April 2014, making certain changes to the constitution but “without causing any social upsets.”
— Precarious stability —
Algeria depends heavily on its vast oil and gas reserves, which account for 98 percent of exports, and provide the financial means to stave off strikes and unrest that the governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria noticeably lack.
Its foreign exchange reserves stood at $190 billion on September 1.
The president of the education workers’ union, Mohamed Bennaoui, told AFP that pay rises had averted industrial action.
“Today we have been paid the salary increases and bonuses that we were promised. That means that everything has been done to avoid a strike in the education sector.”
But his views were not shared by the union of secondary school teachers. It has complained that its members are increasingly overworked, with an additional 200,000 pupils expected nationwide when the new terms starts on Sunday.
The ICG’s William Lawrence argues that, while youth protests have been going on for years and culminated in January 2011, when thousands took to the streets at the height of the Arab Spring, memories of Algeria’s civil war prevent the movement from taking hold.
“People really fear the spectre of chaos that they lived through in the 1990s,” he said, while cautioning that the “full spectrum” of social and economic grievances continue to plague Algeria despite its hydrocarbons wealth.
“The country has a huge economic cushion with its oil and gas reserves. But that gets into the fact that the money doesn’t trickle down to the people.
There is an extra layer of frustration when you know your government is rich.”