Housing riots in Algerian slums

26 October 2009

Residents in and from the Diar Echams slum in Algiers have engaged violently with the police for almost three full days. The relatively localized and small-scale riots in the Algerian capital broke out on Monday, with about 100 protesters launching various missiles, including stones and Molotov cocktail bombs, at policemen. The policemen arrived on judicial orders to dismantle shacks in a nearby shanty town, some of which were constructed illegally, and the riot was at least in part a form of resistance to that order.

The root cause of the riot is due to discontent with housing and employment conditions in the very poor and overcrowded neighbourhood of Diar Echams. More recently, however, the city authorities published a document listing those qualified. This sparked protest from residents whose names were not listed, and in particular provoked men of around the age of 20, who have constituted the majority of the protestors over the past few days.

These masked youths have blocked roads, hurled debris and other projectiles onto policemen, and have demanded, in addition to new homes, the release of those arrested in Monday’s violence.

According to security authorities, so far at least 28 policemen have been injured; while the 400-strong police force dispatched to deal with the riots have in turn deployed tear gas, water cannons, and an armoured vehicle.

Analysts and residents alike have fairly pessimistic views on the affair and on its wider socioeconomic context.

Despite being a major oil and gas producer, Algeria has recently faced serious domestic grievances concerning housing, unemployment, and living standards more generally. An unemployment rate of nearly 30 percent among urban young is coupled with the inadequacy of public sector pay and a series of recent trade union strikes.

All this comes in spite of a continuing Islamic insurgency in the country. The heavy security presence in the city caused by this insurgency also means that such violent outbreaks are rare.

Nat┬áRudarakanchana – Deputy International News Editor