In Algeria, no taste for an uprising of their own
The violence and chaos of Algeria's civil war in the 1990s has left Algerians nervous about echoing the upheavals in other Arab countries – though many would like to strengthen democracy at home.
Abdou Bendjoudi, a young pro-democracy campaigner in Algiers, has just drafted a novel about a woman’s decade of misery, including rape, kidnap, and betrayal.Skip to next paragraph
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“That woman is Algeria, violated both by the Islamists and the state,” Mr. Bendjoudi says.
His novel evokes the country’s civil war in the 1990s – a decade of chaos that left Algerians wary of joining the wave of Arab revolt that began last year in Tunisia. While many want to strengthen democracy and fight corruption, few are keen for a mass uprising.
“Algerians are generally angry,” says Jon Marks, chairman of Cross-Border Information, a risk-analysis firm in Hastings, England. He cites years of scattered riots, protests, and labor strikes – mainly over economic issues. “But no one wants to return to the 1990s.”
For many Algerians, the upheaval around them recalls that violent decade and highlights the risks of fomenting change from below.
In Egypt, which has remained relatively peaceful since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February 2011, many citizens are upset that the revolution may not result in a free society. The presidential election run-off on June 16-17 will be contested by Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister and a member of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. For some Egyptians who rallied in Tahrir Square, neither represent the kind of change they were hoping for.
In Libya, the rebels who banded together to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi have since struggled to overcome factional, regional, and tribal differences. Such bickering, at times violent, looms over parliamentary elections scheduled for June 19. Yesterday gunman from one militia seized Tripoli's main airport after their leader was arrested.
Spiraling violence in Syria, including the recent massacre of 108 civilians in Houla that residents say was perpetrated by pro-government forces, has prompted the United Nations to warn that the country risks "a catastrophic civil war." While the uprising began as a peaceful protest movement, rebels have adopted increasingly violent methods in their fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
For Bendjoudi, the activist, it's an example of how a revolution can go off the rails.
“Assad’s regime is authoritarian and criminal – that’s indisputable,” he says. “But the Syrian revolution began as a peaceful revolution. We condemn all violence, wherever it comes from.”
A quarter-century before the Arab Spring ...
In Algeria, relative prosperity and free speech compared to many Arab countries offer a release valve for discontent, says Louisa Dris Ait Hamadouche, a political science researcher at Algiers University. While authorities have banned and suppressed demonstrations in the capital, a small but feisty independent press offers a platform to critics of the government. Alleged public-sector corruption, high-handed governance, and creaking public services are common themes.
“That’s not to say that there aren’t problems,” says Mrs. Ait Hamadouche. “Just that they’re not bad enough for Algerians to revolt.”