ABSTRACT

In Tunisia, and across the region, group feeling ignited the revolutions that changed governments and opened the transitional process that is now under way. But while the Arab uprisings overturned figures of political authority in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, the Algerian state succeeded in staving off revolution. Large demonstrations in January and February 2011 across the country were carefully repressed by the state; the police used batons and tear gas, not bullets. The main opposition groups did not participate, preventing the mass politicization of the uprisings, and the state then lifted the 19-year-old state of emergency to prevent a boil-over. Political rumblings persisted, however, with a de facto ban on freedom of political assembly, expression, and association. Noteworthy was the discontent of those opposed to the 2006 Law of National Reconciliation. However, because of the violent history that had unfolded in Algeria in the 1990s, triggered by the riots of October 1988, the population remained unwilling to engage in mass protests or collective gathering for political change. The Algerian state’s ban on political crowd gatherings together with collective fear and police prohibition all formed part of the dynamic of ‘crowd formation’ in Algeria. In this chapter I discuss how the ban on political crowds in Algeria succeeded in displacing the fundamentally political discontent into socio-economic demands, which were routinely satisfied. The troubles in Algerian society were and remain political, not economic, but this political discontent was channeled via state repression, facilitated by collective trauma, through a ‘release valve’ of ‘economic crowd’ gatherings. The violence of the 1990s in Algeria, and its massive death toll, deeply

divided and disillusioned the country’s citizens, but it has also prevented them from rising in a collective political crowd revolt. The young generation of Algeria today grew up during the 1990s and witnessed at first hand, at a tender age, mass slaughter, sometimes on their doorsteps. The trauma of witnessing mass death produced deep political problems, wounds, and mistrust of fellow Algerians and of a political system that was implicated in the violence. The Law of National Reconciliation of 2006 legislated the massacres of the previous decade into silence, if not oblivion. It maintained the equilibrium of the state but also produced a certain amount of discontent and unrest in civil society.