Algerian imams use regional unrest to press pay demands

March 14, 2011
algerian protester

(A protester at a Socialist Forces Front party (FFS) rally in Algiers March 4, 2011/Louafi Larbi )

When thousands of young Algerians rioted earlier this year over price rises and living conditions, the government asked state-employed Muslim clerics to preach sermons in the mosques appealing for calm. Now, two months later, the clerics themselves are protesting. “We are very angry, and our daily living conditions are bad,” said Hajaj El Hadj, an imam at a mosque near the capital for over 20 years. “We demand a significant pay rise.”

Algeria’s 100,000 imams have joined municipal police, students, doctors, legal clerks, chauffeurs and oil workers who are demanding better pay and conditions and are threatening strikes or protests if they do not get what they want. This phenomenon has come about, in part, because many Algerians realise there has never been a better time to have their grievances resolved.

The government, anxious to stop a wave of popular revolts in the Arab world spreading to Algeria, has been paying out huge sums in subsidies, wage increases and interest-free loans to placate discontent. But it is not without risks. The protests and strikes — which have so far been small, orderly and localised — could develop into something more unpredictable.

“There is a risk different sectors demanding a pay rise may unify their position and behave as one sector. If that happens it will add more pressure on the government,” said Mohamed Lagab, teacher of political sciences at Algiers university.

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