toth - Schoolchildren in tin: Hydra noigghlnrrhood of...

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Unformatted text preview: Schoolchildren in tin: Hydra noigghlnrrhood of Algiers. Letter from Algiers Anthony B. Toth Walking past the video stores. jewelry shops and fashion boutiques in Hind al- Fetr. the large, modern shopping mall in Algiers. an American could almost feel at home. Local radio. heard over the PA system. plays songs by Phil Collins and Van Morrison. Madonna. Elvis and James Dean posters festoon shop win- dow; and add a touch of American chic. The surres in the mall are privately oper ated. There is even it thriving fast-food restaurant called Rouli Burger that on first glance could pass for a Burger Kingw french fry makers, color~coordinabed cos- tumes and all. The fresh-baked pastries. however. are definitely a local touch. This quintessentially Western—style establish- ment was built in a country proclaiming Islamic socialism by an (ax-government minister who feels that the future of the country will be best served by adapting Algerian ways to those of the industri- alized West. In a city of close to 3 million it is not surprising that Rind al-ii‘etr is jammed on weekends. with lines of cars waiting to park in the mall's underground garage. Middle East Report - March—April 1987 Milling from shop to shop are Alger-isms of all ages, but men outnumber women. The older men dress like working men all Over Europe: conservative slacks. open-necked shirts anti everyday jackets. The young men wear jeans and Adidas sport shoes. Some 'l“-shirts advertise non-existent American sports teams like the California Hams. There were rumors in the capital re- cently that the Thursday-Friday weekend might be changed to Friday-Saturday. a move strongly opposed by religious lead- ers. to open up one more day of commerce with Europe and other countries. {In neighboring Morocco and Tunisia. the weekend is Saturday—Sunday.) If you’ve seen "The Battle of Algiers," you would recognize the loose‘sleeved. hooded cloak, the djoiabu, that is the tra- ditional male garb in the country. It is worn more by the old than the young. more by the rural than the urban dwellers. Older women. in lightvcolurcd veils and cloaks covering everything but the eyes and the feet and ankles, march purpose— fully from store to store or stall to stall in Artilufl'.) 'l'uzi: the opensoir markets like Premier Mai. Occasionally i see a Latinolaced Berber woman wearing a brightly potterned dress. More frequently, women" young and oldwwaar light-colored. traditional dresses very similar to the Iranian cimdor. People here tell me this is a sign of ndhcr ence to a conservative Muslim sect. Most young women in stores or on the street wear modest Western-style dresses and are usually on their way to school or wori-z or an errand. While the sight of groups of" young Algerian men whiling away the day on the street is quite common. women seem to stand around in public only by necessitywat bus stops and in store lines. On occasion one comes across earnest young couples on park benches in the city. perhaps relieved to have some privacy away from a crowded apartment. In the very same complex which holds liiad al-ii'etr, that sleek tribute to West- ern-style commerce. two other struCLures symbolize, another current in modern Al- geria. One is the military history museum. which displays the artifacts of the coun- tr}"s bloody, sevenqeor war against 43 French colonial rule. during which nearly a million died or were listed as missing. In front of the building are engines from military aircraft that had been shot down, cylinders rusting. propellers wilted. An old French tank site to one side, its barrel pointed harmlessly into the air. The other structure is the Monument to the Martyrs, u tell, three-sided form of curving concrete looming on a steep hill- side over the city. At each of the moon- ment's three massive feet is a darkened ' bronze statue of an Algerian indepen- clcnce fighter. In small towns and cities throughout the country, one sees monu- ments to the martyrs of the revolution. To this day, the language, architecture, agriculture, bureaucracy, education sys- tem and culture of Algeria bear a lingering French impact. Arabic is the country's official language. and those hoping to di- minish the prevalence of French have had English declared as the second language. Yet French is quite widespread, even out- side the major urban centers. It serves as a- contlnuing link to European culture as well as a lingua frame for Arabic- and timber-speakers. Those promoting native Algerinn identity campaign for “Arab- izution" of the society. to the chagrin of Berber-speakers as well as those who see the advantages of the present franco- phone culture. Complaints occasionally appear in newspapers that there is not enough Algerian (or Arabic] music on the radio. and that Algerian films are much too rare compared to the number of Amer- ican und French productions shown on domestic television. The corrosion appears in road signs. Throughout most of the country signs are in Arabic and French. Some communi- ties, despite the paucity of English-speak- ers living. working or travelling in the country, have apparently taken the sec- ond-lnngunge decree to heart and have some signs only in Arabic and English. Oil and natural gas have provided the wherewithal l'or Algeria’s "economic development." Sonotrucb is the state pet- rochemicnl enterprise and its influence is ubiquitous. Its managers and engineers form a well-paid elite who can afford large homes and luxury cars. Sonatrach is liter- ully present in nearly every Algerian household. Most people use natural gas for heating and cooking. Those not con» nectcd to piped gas must go to the nearest Nafini gas station to pick up cans the site of small kegs and haul them borne—in a car, on a dolly or on the buck ofa donkey. 44 In the 1ch lQ'FOs the US was Algeria's largest foreign trade partner, in large part because of large natural gas contracts. Projects started during the last spurt of development fueled by the high-priced oil of the late 19705 and early 19805 can be seen all amond Algiers. Colorful Dutch- built apartment blocks rise from the roll- ing hills outside the city; new multi-laned highways ring Algiers and lack only land- scaping to prevent soil erosion; a bright. newly-completed cultural center with of— fices, galleries and theaters sits on a hill overlooking the city and its harbor. Per- sons who have seen the sometimes opu« lent; projects in other Arab oil»pr0ducing countries. notably Saudi Arabia, told me that Algeria seemed to have put its for» tunes to more sensible use. Agriculture is getting increased atten- tion and funding in the 19805. Along the fertile coastal region, garden vegetables are being raised in the winter under miles and miles of frame structures covered with clear plastic. But inadequate agricul- tural performance combined with the sod den full in oil prices to create an uncom- fortable summer in Algeria in 1986. There were shortages of eggs, meet and some types of fresh vegetables. Red meet. when available. costs $30 per kilo {at the official exchange rate, which overvalues the Alge- rian diner). The some products are some- times available just outside the cities, but distribution problems and lack of limin- cial incentive due to government-set prices have compounded the eil‘ects of shortages. Coffee continues to be in short supply, and Alger-lens working in France can be seen checking bags stuffed with coffee and sweets on flights to Algeria. They also bring consumer goods like clothes, radios and appliances that are either not. avail- able in Algeria or are of inferior quality. One joke making the rounds in Algiers has :1 Moroccan going to a doctor coon plainlng about aches and pains. The doc- tor performs some tests and tells the man that he must give up notice, tee, sugar. fresh meat, chocolate and tomatoes. "Doctor." says the Moroccan, “why didn’t you just tell me to move to Algeria?“ Since 1978, debates within the Fronttlc Liberation Nationals {FLN}. the coun- try's ruling party, have enlarged the scope for “economic reforms" to loosen import restrictions and allow increased private- sector activity. Although a wide variety of viewpoints and ideologies are represented among the FLN leadership, debates within that body do not adequately ad dress the issues of some segments of the population. Demonstrations and rioting erupted lest November in the eastern city of Constantine. From November '7 to 9, college students were joined by secondary school pupils in the streets, ostensibly protesting various proposed school poli. cies and the quality ofnieals at the univer- sity. Rioters smashed shop windows and set cars and buses afire. It became apper- cut that there Were political bases for the disturbance. since the local E‘LN and Al- gerian Press Agency offices were vandal- ized. Police used tear gas, water cannons and dogs against the students. At least 136 were arrested and sentenced to terms of two to seven years. Press coverage of the event was scanty in Algeria, with brief articles on the inside pages characterizing the rink as “vandalism” and “gratuitous violence." Constantine is a seat of Islamic learning in Algeria and has a history that would tend to support the suspicion of some observers that the recent unrest in that city was in port fanned by Muslim activ- ists opposed to the current regime. Presi- dent Chedli Beujsdid stated that "there are some wicked elements and behind them some elements hostile to the Alge- rian revolution." The president said the students‘ stated demands regarding poor food and curriculum changes were a mere "pretext" and that. their "objective was political, no more, no less." The FLN continues to be the main avenue for political expression and par- ticipation in Algeria. Citizens must be circumspect about their public political pronouncements, and foreigners must be careful about how they report on Algeria. A French journalist was expelled from the country for writing about an Algerian hu- man rights group. The atmosphere on the whole is for rum oppressive. in Algiers itself there is the bustle of a busy Mediterranean port: noisy jams along the cornichc: colorful fresh fish vendors; noisy market streets packed with pedestrians; bright rugs and linens hung out to air on fancy iron balco- nies; boisterous and frenetic soccer games on nearly every stretch of open pavement. The Western tourist may be disappointed to see the luck of things to buy. but the Algeriens have decided that developing a foreign tourism industry is not one of their priorities. They have won the coun- try back from the French and now run it in their own way. I Middle East Report 0 March-April 1987 ...
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This note was uploaded on 02/17/2011 for the course HIST 246 taught by Professor Holden during the Spring '11 term at Purdue.

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toth - Schoolchildren in tin: Hydra noigghlnrrhood of...

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