Riots overtake peaceful protest by Algerian shopkeepers

Rioters in Bejaia. This photo was posted by one of our Observers.
Rioters in Bejaia. This photo was posted by one of our Observers.

In the Bejaïa region, in northern Algeria, shopkeepers are fighting against a new finance law that came into effect on January 1. This law, which includes new taxes, risks to threaten revenue from sales as well as decreasing the purchasing power of Algerian households. Shopkeepers, especially those from Bejaïa, went on strike but their movement was quickly overrun when violent riots broke out, according to our Observer.

The owners of these shops in Bejaïa closed their doors as part of a call to strike. This photo was taken in Bejaïa, on January 2, 2017.

This finance law aims to reduce the high public deficit after the price of oil plummeted. As of January 1, the value-added tax (VAT), income tax, property tax and the price of fuel all increased.

Shopkeepers from Kabylie as well as other areas decided to show their opposition to the new measures by keeping their doors shut on Monday. Other people opposed to the new law joined them in protest. However, their peaceful protests were quickly disturbed by rioters. Early in the morning, young people began to clash with security forces. A bus and a police van were both burned, and security forces used tear gas on the protestors.

Our Observer, who wished to remain anonymous, is a shopkeeper in the area.

“We have to increase prices to make up for the increase in taxes and we risk losing customers”

On Monday, most of the businesses on the main streets in Béjaïa were closed. However, all of us business owners  came to an agreement to provide a minimum amount of service — we didn’t want to punish our fellow citizens. Pharmacies and bakeries stayed open, for example. A lot of people expressed solidarity with our strike. Some young people protested peacefully in the streets against the new law.

However, late in the morning, riots broke out in several different locations across the city. Rioters pushed over a police van and set a bus alight. They also looted an electronics shop. Photos of these scenes of violence circulated on social media. However, I don’t think that these acts were carried out by people from Béjaïa. We know how to express our demands in a peaceful manner. This was a way of undermining our movement.

Rioters targeted this bus in Bejaïa on Monday, January 2.

"As usual, the biggest crowds were in Kabylie"

Everyone is fed up, so it wasn’t hard to mobilise people. The law will increase the added value tax from 17 to 19 percent. It will also increase the domestic tax on tobacco consumption and reduce subsidies for the price of fuel.

We have to increase prices to make up for the increase in taxes and we risk losing customers, especially as their buying power has already been weakened by the devaluation of the Algerian dinar [Editor’s note: It has dropped 40% in value since 2014]. What's more, I think that this law was already being applied by wholesalers even before it went into effect: the price of goods from our suppliers increased two months ago.

The Condor electronics store was looted in Bejaïa on Monday, January 2.

We organised ourselves because we don’t feel like we can count on the General Union of Algerian Shopkeepers and Artisans [l’Union générale des commerçants et artisans algériens, or UGCAA]. We’ve made numerous demands to express our point of view, but they were never taken into account. We no longer expect anything from bodies close to the government, like this union. It has lost all credibility in our eyes.

That’s why we decided to organise this strike ourselves on social media. We spread the word ourselves, even though the UGCAA condemned it. I don’t know who started this call to action.

A call for calm on social media:

"Share this message.

No to violence. Bejaia is our town and region, we need to save it




Boulenouar El Hadj Tahar, the president of the General Union of Algerian Shopkeepers and Artisans [UGCAA] blames businessmen who import merchandise.

"There are people trying to exploit this strike,” he told Middle-East Eye. "We know, for example, that import barons wanted to cancel import licences [import licences were introduced in spring 2016 by the government to decrease the import bill, which is contributing to the fall of the Algerian economy]."