afrol News, 3 February - Algerians are active planning for protests similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt. A great march is announced for 12 February. But the Algiers government threatens to react as harshly as Mubarak in Egypt.
Several opposition groups in Algeria have called for mass protests in the Algerian capital Algiers on Saturday 12 February. The call comes from the political opposition, human rights groups, trade unions, student organisations and an association of the unemployed.
The groups' main demand is the lifting of Algeria's 19-year-old state of emergency, which has allowed the regime to limit political activities and human rights. They further demand the widening of the right to establish political parties, improved social welfare and democracy.
Contrary to most of the earlier unrests in Algeria - which regularly are violently suppressed by the army - it is neither the Berber minority nor the large Islamist opposition standing behind the call for protests. It is the same population groups that organised the Tunisia and Egypt protests.
This was also made clear in choosing a Saturday for the announced Algiers protest marches, not a Friday, which easily could have mobilised Islamists after the Friday prayers. The new opposition seems mostly secular and Arab.
Potentials for a social upheaval in Algeria are seen as enormous. While labour conditions have rapidly improved over the last years, youth unemployment is still exceeding 20 percent, according to official statistics. Most observers believe it is much higher, although below youth unemployment rates in other North African countries.
Early in January - responding to the unrest in Tunisia and triggered by significant price increases of basic food items - spontaneous protests broke out in Algeria. "But the authorities were able to take rapid measures to reduce these prices with the temporary elimination of custom duties and the value-added tax on those items," according to Algiers IMF mission head Joël Toujas-Bernaté.
But not only these social polices paused the Algeria unrests. On 22 January, police were ordered to stop and disperse protesters in Algiers. Several were injured in the clashes as police troops made it clear they would not allow any dissent.
The 22 January manifestations had demanded wider democratic and human rights in the country, with slogans calling for the freedom of assembly and expression. Further slogans called for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The announced slogans for the planned 12 February protests are less provocative, but still call for wider political and human rights.
But Algerian acting Prime Minister Nouredine Yazid Zerhouni yesterday made it clear that such protests would be treated heavy-handedly, emphasising they were illegal. Whoever called for the protests later must "take on responsibility if damage should occur or if things get out of control," he warned in front of journalists.
Mr Zerhouni added that it was necessary to maintain the age-old state of emergency in place, given the threat of Al Qaeda and other militant Islamist movements in Algeria. The state of emergency originally was put in place during an Islamist uprising, 19 years ago, which was brutally crushed by the army, leaving over 100,000 dead.
The Algerian army, mostly seen as very loyal to President Bouteflika, has a long history of crushing revolts and uprisings. Most significantly, it fought a brutal civil war against - even more brutal - Islamists in the 1990s. But it has also crushes several local riots, often organised by the mostly rural Berber people.
Many therefore fear that a popular uprising in Algeria could become especially bloody. Others however hold that Algerian army privates would react in the same way as in Egypt if ordered to shoot at people like themselves.
Algeria has one of North Africa's most liberal media policies, with critical media existing, good access to foreign broadcasters such as 'Al Jazeera' and uncensored internet and mobile phone net access. There are repeated attacks on critical journalists, but generally, Algerians are free to receive information. The unrest in Egypt is well known and watched with great interest in the country.
The brutal attacks on protesters in Cairo yesterday however could spread fears about the consequences of a popular uprising in Algeria. The Algerian population to a large degree is exhausted by decades of insecurity, although mostly fed up with the Bouteflika regime.
Update: Algerian authorities today announced they were to lift the state of emergency "in very near future," giving in to the main demand of the protest movement.
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