Algeria watchers at Paris symposium take grim stock

Algeria Interface, May 22, 2005

The Paris-based International Studies and Research Centre (CERI) held a symposium on May 21st devoted to the major issues facing Algeria. There was consensus that encouraging economic indicators masked a desperate situation for ordinary Algerians.

Paris, 22/05/02 - Among the speakers Claire Spencer of the International Crisis Group (ICG) and Khadija Mohsen of IFRI, had just returned from Algeria with gloomy assessments of the growing gulf between ordinary citizens and the ruling elite. Neither the regime nor the opposition could provide any answer to the basic problems of daily survival.

Ms Mohsen had however gleaned a sense that civil society was stirring and beginning to make up for the failings of state provisions. In addition the regime's strongmen seemed less and less untouchable since the torture case in French courts against former defence minister Khaled Nezzar.

In the same way books like "La sale guerre", "Qui a tué à Bentalha" and "La mafia des généraux" had set precedents in their denunciations of army atrocities and official corruption.

End of the nation-state
Ms Spencer, however, took a darker view and said that widespread mistrust and mutual suspicion could cause a breakdown of the social fabric. Disillusion with Bouteflika had helped the main Islamist guerrilla group, the GSPC, to attract new recruits.

Shams Benghribi of the Paris School of Political Science pointed out that both the GSPC and the GIA were "Salafist jihadists" driven by the same millenarian mindset and the idea of "religious cleansing". They fought not against the state but against society as a whole. For such groups Bouteflika's civil harmony amnesty policy was unthinkable.

Salem Chaker, who teaches Berber at the Paris School of Oriental Languages (INALCO), said the recent bloody events in Kabylia were the sign of a deep cultural resurgence. They looked set to last, which could spell the end of the Jacobean nation-state that had prevailed since 1962.

Outward hopeful, internally desperate
A number of speakers addressed the issue of the discrepancy between outwardly encouraging figures and the dire social and economic reality within the country.

Azzedine Layachi of St. Johns University, New York, said that international funding orgs were pleased with sound economic indicators pointing to reduced debt and healthy currency reserves, for example. Concurrently, however, industrial output, investment and employment continued to dwindle and 12 millions Algerians still lived below the poverty line.

Ivan Martin from New York University, Madrid, pointed that Algerian had nevertheless gone ahead and signed an association agreement with the EU – but for political, not economic, reasons. The Algerian regime was more concerned by regaining international repeatability than being part of the global economy. Unlike Tunisia and Morocco it had not carried out any real economic assessment prior to the agreement.

Mr Martin said that the Algeria's industrial fabric would not withstand liberalisation and its flood of European imports. However, it had no intention of implementing the agreement but would brandish it as a token of its new-found economic respectability.

Akram Belkaid of French financial daily, La Tribune, echoed the previous speaker saying that despite lip service to globalisation, Algeria's leaders evaded any debate of the real issues. Global crime, however, looked poised to take advantage of the state's abdication of its responsibilities.

Fatiha Talahite of French research body, CNRS, wondered if might be a link between the gradual collapse of the state and the rise of globalisation, built on Anglo-Saxon economic and legal practices. She thought that Algeria's intellectual elite had thrown in the towel despite the ultra-nationalist discourse of the country's leaders.

Although the symposium was entitled, "Algeria: a stock-take and outlook" ("Algérie: état des lieux et perspectives"), nobody seemed to think there was much outlook.

Philippe Mischowsky

 
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