Anti-fracking protesters in Algeria face government suppression

Anti-fracking protesters in Algeria face government suppression
Analysis: Government officials have been criticised after a crackdown on those protesting against fracking and the marginalisation of southern Algeria.
3 min read
03 March, 2015
Protesters against shale gas exploitation in Algiers [Anadolu]

The situation in the Ain Salah region in southern Algeria [Ar] has deteriorated after two months of peaceful protests against the exploration and exploitation of shale gas reserves.

Violent clashes broke out between protesters and security forces when protesters attempted to storm drilling sites on the city's edge.

They tried to force workers from Sonatrach, a government-owned oil and gas company, to leave the site. Security forces intervened using tear gas and batons to stop them reaching the fracking site.

     Political parties and human rights activists criticised the Algerian authority's use of force against protesters.

Political parties and human rights activists have criticised the Algerian authority's use of force.

The clashes followed two months of peaceful talks when the government tried to encourage protesters to accept its decision to exploit shale gas. The government also tried disuade the opposition from organising further protests.

Soufiane Djilali, the head of the New Generation opposition party, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that officials had ordered security forces to instigate chaos by destroying private property and using racial slurs against protesters.

"The government had moved to a new phase of oppression before beginning the hydrofracturing process in the second wellbore. Police forces were assigned to provide security to multinational oil and gas companies from potential popular protests," added Djilali, a 2014 presidential election candidate.

He argued that the government's methods were reminiscent of the Pinochet regime in Chile, when the powerful plundered the country's wealth while the people were fiercely oppressed.

"After systematically looting the national wealth in Algeria, the ruling party seems to be planning to drag the country into a perilous labyrinth that may affect the country's cohesion," Djilali said.

He argued that the opposition had been trying to draw the public's attention to the situation, especially the dire consequences fracking will likely have on national unity.

But the government refuses to change its position, despite the severity of the situation.

The politician argued that the administration of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was leading the country into chaos by turning a peaceful demonstration into a violent conflict, as happened in Syria. He argued that the president may have instigated chaos to avoid political change.

Read also: 40 police officers wounded in Algeria shale gas protest

The Movement for the Society of Peace, an Islamist party, agrees with the New Generation party.

"Unnationalistic entities affiliated with a deaf and mute government are responsible for the situation in Ain Salah. This government does not listen to the people or respect their will," said Abdel Nasser Hamdadoush, a leading figure in the movement.

     The government does not listen to the people or respect their will
- Abdel Nasser Hamdadoush, Movement for the society of peace

Politicians in Algeria have warned of the consequences of the government's action. Using force is likely to raise tension and encourage people to pursue other means in their struggle to win their social and economic rights,m say analysts.

Protesters are also upset that those living in the south and the Sahara regions are marginalised, compared with those in the north.

Hamdadoush argued that if it is proven that verbal and physical violence has been used against peaceful protesters, it will further complicate the situation. Violence is being also used to incite racial tension, which could harm national unity and lead to further calls for a breakaway southern region. 

"The deteriorating situation in Ain Salah is a damning indictment of the government's inability to perform its constitutional duties and acknowledge the depth of the crisis in the country," he added.

Protesters from Ain Salah remain unswayed by the government's arguments in favour of shale gas exploitation.

Last week, the opposition organised a number of protests in Algiers and the provinces to show support for those opposing fracking and the marginalisation of the south.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.