The Rise of Algerian Youth
Photographer: Amel Pain
The first image seen upon arrival to Algiers Airport is a 2014 election campaign poster showing the faces of regular Algerians with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s eyes.
The North African country, a former French colony, has a population of about 41 million people. One in seven is aged under 25.
Algeria saw its War of Independence end in 1962, a youth revolt in 1988, and a civil war marked the 1990s, resulting in the deaths of over 100,000 people and the disappearance of tens of thousands more.
The war ended with the election of Bouteflika as president. He led a reconciliation process that brought Islamist politics back onto the scene, stopped the bloodshed and used income from oil and gas to boost youth employment and bolster infrastructure. After his first term Bouteflika was reelected three times, despite his declining health that culminated in a stroke in 2013. He was left physically weakened and was rarely seen in public after that. Oil prices dropped and the Algerian dinar kept loosing value as inflation rose along with discontent.
In February 2019 and all Fridays since, Algerians have been coming out to protest.
At first, they were asking Bouteflika to renounce his candidacy for a fifth term, but it grew into demanding a change in the whole regime and a new Constitution that would allow fresh figures to emerge who could fix an economy that has led to 30 percent youth unemployment. Young men with no regular employment spend their time hanging around the streets of Algiers, doing small jobs for pocket money. They all have demands to fulfill, so they joined the rallies. Algeria’s youth did not experience the War of Independence, the 1988 revolt nor the civil war. But they saw the fears their parents harbored over an uncertain future; few job prospects and a surge in emigration in search of a better future.
Epa photojournalist Amel Pain visited the only local association taking care of youths in the Bab Al Oued area of the capital.
Bab El Oued was a renowned nest for violent Islamism in the 90s, poverty and a lack of resources, and its mosques were the main places where young people could hang out. Pain visited SOS Bab El Oued, a grass roots association that was established in 1997. Its founders Nasser and Djamila created the space to allow young people to meet and study, as well as participate in workshops and artistic projects to which they would otherwise not have access.
Rafik, Walid, Randa and Liliya come whenever they can. Some are not even from the area, but the possibility of having a space to make music, practice slam poetry, act or simply chat makes it worth going to. Nasser says Bab El Oued lacks basic infrastructure for youth entertainment and the excitement of those who come to the premises shows how eager they are to learn, discover and connect.
Randa and Lilya come a few times a week to help children whose parents cannot afford private classes and act as elder sisters, giving guidance and a listening ear to those who need it.
Walid comes all the way from Al-Biar to rehearse music, jam and teach others the basics of guitar.
Rafik goes to high school and comes to the association to have fun. He shyly explains that he likes theater and prefers to be there rather than hanging out in cafes. He is involved in preparation for the rallies with his friends, although he knows change cannot be immediate.
The older ones want younger leadership at the top of the country, an improved economy and to stay in Algeria rather than having to emigrate for a hypothetical better life. The girls wish the whole country could be like SOS Bab El Oued, where they could have a laugh, learn and have a good time, and where being female is not something that would hinder any of that.
Bouteflika announced his resignation on April 3 after six weeks of protests. An interim president was elected and new elections are slated for July. Sunnier days have arrived to Algiers and with them the promise of a better future for everyone. The youth is looking forward to it and promises not to be silent for so long.