We are against holding the celebration this year. Certainly, it raises revenue for the rug merchants, but it is very costly to everyone else: its budget is 190 million dinars (about 1.9 million euros). I believe this is a waste of money at a time when the province has major problems to tackle.
First of all, Ghardaïa suffers from massive unemployment [there is no unemployment data for the region. According to the Algerian government and the IMF, 21.5% of Algerians under 35 are unemployed, relative to 10% for the total population]. Jobs in the big petroleum or mining firms that operate in Algeria’s south are very rarely given to even the most qualified of our region’s young people; they typically are given to people from outside the region because in Algeria, nepotism and favoritism are widespread.
Moreover, Ghardaïa fell victim of major floods
in September 2008. The authorities promised to compensate residents. Some were supposed to get new plots of land and up to 1 million dinars (roughly 10,000 euros). But they’re still waiting for the money. Two thousand housing units were built for those who lost their homes, but in the end, many new arrivals to the region ended up getting these units, and we can’t help but think that there was some nepotism at work [in 2011, only a fraction of the units had been allocated].
The rug celebration seems to us to be particularly wasteful in that it is financed by the city, in other words by the taxes of those who suffer from all these injustices. For this reason, we organised a peaceful sit-in on Tuesday on the path of the celebration’s opening parade. There were about 20 or so activists from my human rights league and about 60 unemployed people joined us. We arrived around 9 a.m.. Barely ten minutes into the start of our protest, the police charged us and it really got out of hand: they used tear gas, fired rubber bullets, and I even later found the casing of a real bullet — which luckily did not hit anyone. We used the chairs set up for the opening ceremony to defend ourselves.
There were injuries among the protesters, with serious bruises to the eyes and foreheads. We treated the injured ourselves because if they had gone to the hospital, the police would most certainly have arrested them.
Rubber bullet casings, as well as a live bullet casing. Photo published on Facebook by Khodir Sekouti.
Some of the protesters were arrested, and we haven’t heard from them since. A commission will meet and decide their fate. If they are not freed, we will protest anew.