Algeria: Anger of the Disposessed
A new history of Algeria since WW2.
Algeria: Anger of the Dispossessed
Martin Evans and John Phillips
Yale University Press 352pp £19.99
ISBN 978 0300108811
After the National Liberation Front ousted the French in 1962, and after more than a century of colonial rule, Algeria became the darling of the non-aligned movement in the 1960s and 1970s until political corruption and economic mismanagement triggered a descent into violence in the 1980s. It then endured a living nightmare throughout the 1990s as the army clashed with Islamist terrorists, turning the country into a bloodbath. Whole villages were hacked apart; the army opened fire on unarmed civilians, employed torture and thousands ‘disappeared’. Such developments led Osama bin Laden to take an interest in the country, with the result that a branch of al-Qaeda now operates there. Also, in the past decade Algerian terrorists have acted with worrying effect in France and the UK.
The book succeeds in its aim to reveal the causes of the violence from the 1980s until today. The appeal of Islamism is clear to a nation where the potential for wealth and prosperity – Algeria has oil reserves and its gas riches are the sixth largest in the world – was and is squandered by a corrupt political and military elite leaving the population to suffer. Unemployment has hovered around 20 per cent for decades. Election-rigging, a legacy from the French, continued after independence. Deprived of legitimate forms of political expression and personal advancement, many in Algeria face a terrible choice: leave in search of a better life, or stay and struggle.
Ironically, this terrorized nation is a partner in the ‘war on terror’. The US has invested $125 million in the Pan-Sahel Initiative to fight terror and constructed a new military base, while the European Union, the IMF and various energy companies are focused on ensuring that the energy revenues remain secure. It remains to be seen whether the Algerian people benefit from these investments. If they don’t, there will surely be even deeper ramifications, for as the authors conclude, the anger of the post-colonial dispossessed will not disappear.
Stephanie Hare is the Alistair Horne Visiting Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford
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