A Season of Discontent: Algiers and Tunis Remain Under Stress
After ending the year in agitation, Tunis and Algiers are not out of woods yet. As 2011 starts, new crises continue to trouble authorities. For example Tunisia has been the target of Internet attacks, essentially bringing government websites out of commission. The Anonymous Group has been busy since January 2, 2011 staging distributed denial of service attacks and 3 days later government sites remain unreachable. These attacks are motivated by the Group's support of both Wikileaks, blocked in Tunisia and in support to Tunisian protesters in broad terms. Meanwhile, authorities in Tunisia have been on the edge as tension mounted during the Wednesday, January 5, 2011 burial of Mohamed Bouazzizi, the young unemployed man who burned himself to death on December 17. His death triggered a popular chain reaction of anger not seen in years.
More than 5,000 people took part to the burial ceremony further fueling anger against the Tunisian government. A symbolic cabinet government reshuffle was announced by President Ben Ali, but as his supporters have been calling for him to run for a fifth term in 2014, his task to make peace with the Tunisian people will likely be a priority in the coming years. Tunis knows that a symbolic government reshuffle is not enough and only a first step, and both concrete economic and political measures will have to be taken if the authorities want to control the current crisis.
In neighboring Algeria, the year ended with confrontation between the populations of several neighborhoods and police over housing. But as we start the year, a fresh wave of protests broke out in the capital Algiers. In the popular neighborhood of Bab El-Oued, gangs of disgruntled youth have been attacking government offices, targeting in particular the main police station. Witnesses say police used teargas to disperse the assailants. Anti-riot troops intervened over night in a same way it happened the night before. Sources also are reporting that similar youth demonstrations are beginning to take shape in the highlands of the capitals, primarily in Cheraga and Bouzareah, while Baraki and other areas continued on their housing protests. In Bab El-Oued, demonstrators have come out essentially to complain about their living conditions and the high-cost of living. Once again, as in the case of Tunis, economic problems are dominating the popular discontent in a season that is not likely to end quickly.