December 24, 2007
Holiday Fuzziness, Algeria, Al Qaeda and Iraq
As fuzzily cheery such news as interfaith warm and fuzzy declarations (which have their utility although as I consider them rather normal in my experience, I find them boring), of rather more interest perhaps is an uncharacteristically interesting commentary from NYT via the FT on one of the Algerian suicide bombers from last months bloody nonsense in Algiers which is interesting reading paired with FT's Quent Peel's commentary on the "socialist timewarp" that is Algeria, and the Kremlinesque opacity of its political sphere.
Peel's commentary, given my experience in financial transactions there, rings rather true.
Foreign workers have been attacked, but the oil and gas fields are far to the south, and generally well-protected. In spite of its soaring revenues, the rest of the Algerian economy seems locked in a bureaucratic socialist time-warp, discouraging investment, and preventing spending on urgently needed infrastructure.
Foreign reserves are expected to top $100bn this year and foreign debts are just $3bn, yet the financial system is primitive: the first automated bank cash machine was only opened in Algiers last summer. Lacking any sophisticated capital markets, Algeria is a country that resembles a peasant farmer who keeps his money in his mattress. The benefits of high oil and gas prices have barely begun to benefit the mass of the population.
Algeria is a country with 21st century revenues and 19th century socialist management. The worst combination of French and Soviet administrative cultures (and perhaps Arabo-Turkish as well). I am not surprised that the relatively more liberal societies of Tunisia and Morocco, while facing serious issues, are not as effected by violence as the Kafkaesque nightmare of Algerian "social solidarity." Nor is it surprising that Egypt, (which has a new profile page at FT, that is worth reviewing) shares some of theses issues, although the particular horrors of Algeria clearly harken back to the hell of the war of independence as well. Sadly, Algeria and Lebanon together do not suggest Iraq is going to have a brilliant future.
Further, returning to the opening comment, it strikes me that the poisonous unfilled promise of socialist faux social solidarity, a la FLN or Egypt's Arab Socialism, is more harmful than frank inequality of a privately driven economy, and correcting on the margins - above all in keeping the rentier economy in the pen as private actors rather than disguising it behind a facade of "social solidarity" and above all in demystifying economic growth & change, rather the disguising rent seeking... Imperfect and step wise reform in a more transparent enviro is worth 100 empty bloody speeches about social solidarity and "equality."
I draw attention to this particular citation of the profile of the grandpa suicide bomber:
"He started out as an enthusiastic supporter of the governing National Liberation Front, whose French initials are F.L.N., the popular party born of the national liberation army, which won independence in 1962, Hadra said. But she said he grew increasingly disillusioned with an administration that failed to pass on the country’s energy riches to ordinary people.
If this kind of profile does not recall in all its details 19th century radicalism - with the sinister innovation of suicide - I do not know what does.
and the Naomi Kleins of the world want more of Algeria, less of markets...
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Minor correction that actually enhances your point -- suicide bombing was part of the Russian anarchism or other insurgency of the late 19th early 20th centuries. It was not as common or given the mythical status it has among alQaeda types or Sri Lankan rebels, but it was real; I just read an archival report from the US embassy in 1908 or so reporting a Polish female rebel who shot to death the Director of Prisons and then was captured alive (but executed days later) after a beltful of dynamite on her failed to go off.
Posted by: matthew hogan at December 24, 2007 09:26 PM
My mother used to work for a multinational group in Morocco, which covered the Maghreb, Algeria included, where there was a technical office. The expatriate engineers unfortunate enough to serve there (end of 80's) felt like a shipwrecked survivor treated to the Savoy hotel: they had forgotten how decent cheese tasted after having to eat Bulgarian dairy products, suffering power interruptions (I hear that this is still the case), and having to ask every visitor from Algeria and Tunisia to take food with them... Makes one think about the former Eastern Bloc, where Western visitors could get a long way with some pantyhose and cigarettes to hand out as gifts...
So when you add state socialism and oil revenue, you get Algeria's present economy and politics...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at December 27, 2007 07:08 AM