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 Friday, 5 July, 2002, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Algerians find no cause for celebration
Election posters in Algiers
Algerians have lost faith in their politicians

Musicians in traditional dress may have been criss-crossing the streets of Algiers for several days, but they have failed to create a festive atmosphere on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Algeria's independence from France, after a bloody, seven-year war.

The authorities have splashed out on celebrations, with concerts by rai stars such as Khaled, Cheb Mami and Rachid Taha, and a show called Watani, meaning My Nation, on the eve of the big day.

So far, independence has not brought us anything

Fateh, 22, unemployed
In fact, no efforts have been spared to give the impression that the dreary life of the Algerians is rosy.

But that image could not be further from the bitter reality.

Violence upsurge

Islamic militants, who were thought to have been defeated, are back in force.

They were flushed out of Algiers in 1998, but they signalled their return with a series of bloody attacks in the heart of the capital and in the suburbs.

The radical Islamists took up arms after the army cancelled the country's first pluralist elections in 1991 which an Islamist party - the Islamic Salvation Front - was poised to win.

It is back to square one for Algeria.

Mourners in a cemetery
As many as 170,000 people are believed to have died in the violence

The militants have taken advantage of the national concord law decreed three years ago by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to regroup, with new fighters recruited among the unemployed and those left behind by the economic liberalisation process.

Fateh, 22, sits on an old plastic crate, behind the piece of cardboard that he uses as a stand to display cigarettes he sells by the unit.

He gazes at the musicians walking down the main boulevard, Rue Mourad Didouche.

Unemployment

"So far, independence has not brought us anything, my family and myself," he says.

"There are nine of us living in two rooms like sardines. My father has lost the job he had for about 20 years in a company which has gone bust. Overnight, he found himself without an income."

Algiers
Many in Algiers are struggling to make ends meet

Like Fateh, his two brothers are in what they call "bizness", the illegal sale of local or imported goods.

"We don't have any choice. We have to earn a little money not to die of hunger," he says.

For years, Fateh has had something on his mind: he wants to leave the country, but to go where?

"Anywhere in Europe, to work and save some money, and then come back here to have my own shop, buy a flat and start a family."

Exile

Thousands of young Algerians have left the country illegally to flee unemployment, violence and the lack of prospects.

Many of those who stay break down, take to the bottle or to drugs.

Berber demonstrator faces the security forces
Rioting has been widespread in the Kabylie region

Suicide - by hanging, usually - has been on the increase for the last couple of years, especially in rural areas.

Poverty is spreading, and prostitution is rife.

Forty years after independence, Algeria is facing an identity crisis and severe political, economic and social problems.

The gap between ordinary people and their leaders is widening.

Protest

They only have one weapon, rioting, to protest against what they call hogra, the authorities' scorn for them, water shortages and what they consider as the unfair allocation of social housing.

Young people in Algiers say that political parties are past their sell-by date.

They say that the return in the political arena of the former single party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), after the parliamentary election in May, does not bode well.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Bouteflika is challenged by fundamentalists and Berbers

The old guard of the FLN, which ruled the country for 25 years after independence, could be tempted to restore the single-party system, thus threatening the democratic freedoms gained from the bloody 1988 riots.

With such a volatile situation, with the attacks blamed on the Islamic militants and the haphazard political and economic leadership in the background, foreign companies are not rushing to invest in Algeria.

Meanwhile, state companies unable to compete with imports are closing down in quick succession.

Economic liberalisation has made nearly 500,000 people jobless over the last few years.

The unemployed, their families and those who spend their days idle, with their back to a wall, could not care less about the celebrations for Independence Day.


Islamist uprising

Berber struggle

Economic hardship

Background
See also:

13 Jan 00 | Middle East
05 Jun 02 | Middle East
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