Connect to share and comment

Algeria warned against protesting

Bouteflika government tries to preempt pro-democracy demonstrations.

Algeria, a former French colony, has a young population, with 70 percent of its 35 million people under 30. Unemployment is officially at 10 percent. The country's oil exports earned nearly $60 billion in 2010, supplying an estimated 20 percent of Europe's gas supplies.

To avoid the contagion of the Tunisian revolution and popular uprising in Egypt, the Bouteflika government has decided to use some of its oil money to subsidize the prices of sugar and oil. The Algiers government also ordered public companies to hire young people. It also prohibited gas stations from selling gasoline in cans to prevent self-immolation attempts.

Bouteflika also promised to spend $286 billion over the next five years on infrastructure, hospitals, schools and housing.

Although Algiers streets have been relatively quiet over the last week, human rights activists said they are planning several more demonstrations in the coming days.

Since mid-January, the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan have all come under pressure from populations they had long held in fear.

Bouteflika has been president of Algeria since April 1999 and is in his third term in office. Questions about the 73-year-old leader’s health have arisen in recent years and his brother is expected to succeed him. Critics charge that democratic freedoms have eroded during Bouteflika's presidency.

However, Bouteflika is generally credited with quelling the brutal internal conflict between security forces and Islamist militants in which an estimated 200,000 people were killed.

The coming week will show whether Bouteflika will be able to effectively quell the people's dissatisfaction or if there will be mass demonstrations that threaten the Algiers government.

"It is unclear whether these riots are the work of a clan to push Bouteflika out or if on the contrary they are the work of the presidential clan to lead the army ... to kill citizens and get discredited in the eyes of the population," said Algerian academic Lahouari. "We are completely in the dark."

More about the unrest in the Middle East:

The altered aura of the Arab state Everything you need to know Israel nervous as Mubarak teeters