Economy,  North Africa

Food Fights in Algeria and Tunisia

With warnings by the Food and Agricultural Organization of a food price shock, I have seen near 50% rise in the price of cooking oil, not to mention flour in local shops. Unlike Algeria, however, this has not led to riots in British cities.

Since the New Year, discontent at sudden rises in staple prices and unemployment has led to sporadic street-violence in Algiers and other cities. Following Friday prayers, it has become lethal as now three people have been reported killed: two by the Police response; one in an act of arson by rioters. Football matches have been cancelled as stadiums often provide focal points for public opposition.

Algeria is a major exporter of natural gas, and a principal source of the public anger is that the profits are being with-held when they could subsidize food prices. This suspicion appears to be confirmed now that the Government have agreed to do precisely that.

Elsewhere in the region, similar violent protest has been underway in Tunisia for several weeks. Although areas of the hinterland remains impoverished, the urban and littoral areas have experienced decades of stability and rising prosperity in return for the benignly dictatorial rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali: in stark contrast with Algeria which descended into and still is recovering from a demonically nasty Civil War between murderous jihadists and murderous Government forces.

As unemployment and food prices rise in Tunisia as well, combined with frustration from educated and Internet savvy middle-classes, this social contract is becoming unstuck. Following the grisly death of unemployed graduate, Mohammed Bouazizi who self-immolated, it has become increasingly violent with reports of Police using live rounds and killing a number of rioters.