Why is Bab el-Oued up in arms?

Screenshot of a video filmed above a burning barricade during riots in the neighbourhood of Bab el-Oued in Algiers.

Protesting youths clashed with security forces on Wednesday night in the neighbourhood of Bab el-Oued in Algiers. Our Observer, who witnessed the riots, tells us why this impoverished and historically restive neighbourhood is once again up in arms.
 
Rising food prices are the main reason behind the unrest, which started in the western coastal towns of Tipaza and Oran on Monday before spreading to the capital. Over the past week, the price of a kilogram of sugar rose from 80 to 120 dinars (0,8 to 1,2 euros). The cost of five litres of cooking oil rose by 150 dinars (1.5 euros). In 2010, the country experienced an overall inflation rate of 4%.
 
For our Observer, the rising living costs were simply the last straw for young Algerians, who are increasingly resentful of the high unemployment rate and lack of freedom in the country.
 
Video posted on YouTube
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"People can’t take this wretched poverty anymore. They feel abandoned."

Y.B. lives in Bab el-Oued. He witnessed the riots on Wednesday.
 
Everything started when kids set a police car on fire on the square that leads to “El Kettani” (the seafront road) around 7pm. After that, a gang of youths tried to storm the police station, and police responded by firing warning shots.
 
That didn’t scare the rioters off, on the contrary. They were joined by more locals, and rapidly a crowd of several hundred young men formed in front of the police station. The riot police was sent in, and they cordoned off the entire neighbourhood of Bab el-Oued.
 
Video posted on YouTube by hchicha.
 
The rioters re-grouped not far from the main marketplace, burning cars and trash cans and clashing with police along the way. They also vandalized phone booths and billboards. Police fired tear gas to try to disperse the crowd, but the youths responded by yanking cobblestones off the road and throwing them at security forces.
 
The clashes went on until around 2am, at which point quiet returned to the streets. But in the morning, you could sense that the situation was still tense. Most stores remained closed, and some friends told me to avoid going through certain parts of Algiers.
 
“Families of twelve live in tiny one-bedroom flats”
 

It’s no coincidence if riots broke out in Bab el-Oued rather than another part of the capital. The neighbourhood has historically been prone to revolts [notably in the case of the 1988 October riots]. It’s one of the oldest in Algiers - a gritty, working class and densely populated part of town (over 100,000 residents live in Bab el-Oued alone). The living conditions are miserable, especially in terms of housing. The buildings are more than a century old and are never restored by their owners or city authorities. A few months ago, the roof of a building in the city centre caved in, killing one person and leaving several others seriously injured. Families of twelve live in tiny one-bedroom flats. People can’t take this wretched poverty anymore. They feel abandoned.
 
The rising food prices were simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. People here haven’t been able to buy milk for over two months, and they’re announcing flour shortages until the month of March.
 
“If they really want to make their voices heard, they should use other means than violence”
 
Some people wonder why it is youths who are out in the streets when rising food prices primarily affect those who have a family to feed. I think the food prices were just the spark that set off the fire. Young Algerians feel suffocated, they are the worst hit by the high unemployment rate and have no access to leisure activities that could relax and distract them. But if they really want to make their voices heard, they should use other means than violence. The burned cars don’t belong to the police, they belong to the people.”
 
Video posted on YouTube

Post written with France 24 journalist Sarra Grira.

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