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 Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 19:39 GMT
Algiers: Eye of the storm
Sunset over Algiers
The sun has not set on Algiers, say its residents
By Marie Gabriel

More than 200 people have been killed in an upsurge of violence in Algeria since the middle of September, but the capital, Algiers, gives no outward impression of being a city under siege.

On a recent holiday, I spent six days there, but did not feel threatened at all.

Even the old city, the Casbah, with its maze of steep narrow streets, is no longer a no-go area

The last bomb exploded in the capital a few years ago, and some security measures are still visibly in place.

On a typical day out in Algiers, I would encounter a couple of police roadblocks, and there were occasional security checks at public places.

1997 Algiers car bomb
There has not been a bomb attacks in Algiers for several years
But strolling down the working-class district of Bab-el-Oued, once a hotbed of Islamic militancy, is no longer an unreasonable thing for visitors to do.

Even the old city, the Casbah, with its maze of steep, narrow streets, is not a no-go area any more.

But after my visit there, I met a couple of American journalists who had been working in Algiers for two months.

They stared at me in disbelief when I told them what I had done, and seemed surprised that I was still alive.

They would not dream of venturing anywhere with such a dangerous reputation.

Economic woes

For most of the last decade, Algeria has been in international quarantine, consumed by civil strife following the cancellation of the 1992 general election which Islamists were poised to win.

Algerians have long accused the foreign press and governments of neglecting to report anything but the bloodshed in their country.

Official estimates put the number of deaths over the last 10 years at 100,000, many of them the result of acts of horrific brutality.

There may have been a resumption of violence outside Algiers over the last month, but there have not been any attacks on foreigners since 1996.

The armed groups and the violence associated with them, with the involvement of the security forces, no longer seem to be the main concern of the people of Algiers.

Troops search Islamist suspects in Algiers suburb
Violence has continued outside the capital despite tight security
Unemployment and the economic crisis, due partly to the exodus that started 10 years ago, are.

The country has lost the cream of its professional classes to exile or to the bullet, and illegal immigration seems the only way out for many uneducated young men.

Cultural highs

Algerians have long accused the foreign press and governments of neglecting to report anything but the bloodshed in their country.

One recent event worthy of mention is September's film festival in Algiers, organised by French film directors.

Since the start of the violence, no other cultural event has brought so many residents of Algiers together - 70,000 of them.

Cemetery
Practically no family has escaped the violence
And close on its heels came the international book fair, the first in Algiers for a decade.

Over the summer, France had renewed its warning to its citizens not to travel to Algeria, unless they had to for professional reasons.

This was a message that did not go down well in Algeria.

People here want to spread their wings after years of living in fear, shunned by the rest of the world.

A prominent artist told me about one of his latest works, portraying a bird as a symbol of what Algerians have gone through.

It brought to mind something an old imam had said when his wife showed me a caged bird.

Birds should be flying in the sky, the imam had said, not in a cage.

His blue eyes sparkled as he opened his arms to demonstrate how they could be set free.


Islamist uprising

Berber struggle

Economic hardship

Background
See also:

11 Oct 00 | Middle East
24 Sep 00 | Middle East
13 Jan 00 | Middle East
12 Jul 00 | Middle East
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