January 16th, 2011
04:24 PM GMT
For full coverage on North Africa in Arabic, head for CNN Arabic
(CNN) - World attention has focused on Tunisia this weekend as protests forced incumbent President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to flee from office. Many demonstrators voiced their anger over issues including unemployment, living conditions and economic hardship among others.
But Tunisia is not the only North African nation to have faced upheaval in recent weeks, with violence reported in Algeria over rising food prices and a housing crisis.
CNN Arabic has spoken to regional experts and opinion formers over the past few weeks for their comments on just what’s driving the unrest – and how much of it is linked to economic issues. What follows are some of their thoughts.
Khalid Abu-Ismail, policy adviser for fighting poverty with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said that the fallout from worldwide financial crises had had limited direct impact on some Arab countries. The region is not as well-integrated with the international markets as other parts of the world, he explained.
Instead Abu-Ismail believed that the “worst negative effects were caused by the food price crises, especially as most Arab countries were hit at a time when they were trying to drive through painful reforms, such as ending subsidization programs for food and energy.
“Tunisia for example, and north Africa as a whole, is highly linked to the eurozone markets in Europe. They depend on the European market to export goods and energy and services.
“The problems in the eurozone have decreased the amount of exports from Tunisia,” continued Abu-Ismail, “and the effect on the Tunisian industrial sector is huge. " He added that Europe, which has its own economic issues, could no longer continue its role as a major destination for the unemployed of North Africa.
“The poor Arab counties needs to finance a recovery plan to retrigger growth rates. Algeria can do that, depending on its wealth and natural resources, but other countries in the region can’t.”
Kamal Hamdan, Head of Economic Division at the Consultation & Research Institute, specializes in labor markets. He said that new liberal economic policies introduced in the likes of Tunisia had not seen the “fruits of growth” divided equally.
“Only a small minority of people who were close to the regimes managed to benefit from the new economy, while the majority found themselves facing additional suffering after losing their social safety net.”
Financial expert Farid Bin yehya said that “the clashes in Algeria are linked to what is happening in Tunisia. No one can argue that we are facing huge problems. In Algeria, in the last weeks, food prices sky rocketed. Ordinary people felt the heat because this will affect their daily life. The poor do not have the chance to live even a semi–decent life.”
He added that the “way the government tried to solve the problem [by delaying the new taxes on food and gas] will only delay the explosion, it will not defuse it.
“The [Algerian] government lacks any reasonable strategic plans to lead us out of this situation, with local economy that depends entirely on exporting oil and gas.”
Meanwhile Mustafa Bu shashi, the head of the National League for Human Rights in Algeria believes that “the political oppression is the real reason for the riots. We have asked every one to pay attention to this.”
...and no means of expression
Finally Karim Tabo, a spokesperson for the Front of Socialist Movement in Algeria believes that the “the streets were the only place for young men to express themselves. This is the natural response when political institutions are paralyzed and unable to transfer the voice of the people.”
What do you think is causing the unrest in North Africa? Is it just down to economic issues - or wider areas of contention within society? Post your comments below.
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