Opinion

Algeria: a celebration of independence between emotion and pandemic

Argelia

The celebration of Algeria's independence on 5 July was a sad day. Perhaps the saddest in its history. First of all, there was a lot of emotion; the emotion that Algerians have lost lately. The country recovered the bones and skulls of its combatants which were on display in the Museum of Man in Paris. More than a century after their death, the rebels of Zaatcha were buried.  

Independence Day was marked by this moment of remembrance in the El Alia cemetery in Algiers where the martyrs of the war of liberation are buried. Has a page been turned for all that? The wounds of the war between France and Algeria are still open. Algeria wants an official apology and the opening of the archives, but in the meantime, France remains its historic and privileged economic partner. In this context of crisis, Algeria has just renewed its contract with the French oil company Total for LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas). The Algerian subsoil still attracts Europeans and the Italians do not want to give up. ENI has also just had its share of the cake by signing a new gas agreement, but will these big contracts be enough to solve the problems facing the country?

Algeria is trying to cope as best it can. The 58-year-old republic has been experiencing an unstable socio-economic situation since the departure of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and the global pandemic has caught up with it in the midst of a political crisis. The country has suffered one of the largest outbreaks of coronavirus in Africa. The contagion curve is steadily steeper and the authorities seem helpless in the face of the situation, which is only getting worse. Since 26 June, the trend has been upwards, with new cases of people infected with COVID-19 being reported every day. As a reminder, the last peak was in April, with 200 cases before stabilizing. The last peak was in April, with 200 cases before stabilizing.  

Doctors are calling for help on the verge of exhaustion and posting videos on social networks to prevent and report the seriousness of the situation. For the moment, the only measure applicable is isolation.  Algeria "continues to close its land, sea and air borders until God delivers us from this scourge," the head of state announced. This decision comes a few days after a resurgence of the epidemic. New outbreaks have been reported, especially in the east of the country. Sétif has become the new epicenter. Biskra - a city at the gates of the desert - is severely affected and is, to date, one of the main foci of the epidemic. Thus, the south (which used to be spared) is increasingly concerned about the coronavirus. Nothing seems to stop its advance. Contrary to what had been said and expected: COVID-19 survives at over 40° and reaches the most vulnerable populations. The president ordered "harsher penalties for all criminals".

It must be admitted that Algerians have very little respect for physical distance and that the use of the obligatory mask has not found favour with their eyes. We still remember the images posted on social networks during Ramadan where compact queues were formed to buy cakes and other foods. Since the arrival of summer, wedding celebrations have been held without any precautions or protective gestures. Today the country reaps the rewards of taking warnings lightly and paying a high price for it. The president has taken the stand: "Some citizens want to make others believe that COVID-19 is just a myth for political purposes," he said, referring to the popular protest Hirak that, among other things, led to his own election.  

But back to the health crisis. Although the citizen has been accused of not respecting instructions, the laxity of the authorities must also be taken into account. The beaches of Oran (the capital of western Algeria), were very popular this weekend despite a ban on swimming that was to be enforced. Once again, the local authorities did not intervene and let it happen. Now, the president does not rule out a tightening of the measures and even a return to confinement if the upward trend continues.  

At the same time, the economic situation is deteriorating. Foreign exchange reserves are increasingly depleted. To cope with the looming crisis, Algeria depends on the agricultural sector, which generated some $25 billion last year. This is why Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad has insisted on maintaining agricultural activities, as well as "the entire economic chain linked to it". 58 years after its independence, the young republic, which claims to be democratic and popular, is facing major political and socio-economic crises and, above all, major challenges, including those of freedom and democracy.