by Siân Ruddick
Uprisings are shaking the authoritarian regimes of Tunisia and Algeria in North Africa.
Protests have raged for more than three weeks in Tunisia.
High youth unemployment, poverty and a rising cost of living—combined with the obscene wealth of the elite and corruption—has led to fury.
President Ben Ali has lost much of his credibility—protesters have burnt the offices of the ruling party.
His government’s response has been vicious.
Police killed at least 14 protesters over the weekend. They killed at least two others in previous weeks and two demonstrators have killed themselves in protest.
Ben Ali claimed that police only opened fire after warning shots were ignored.
Thousands have poured onto the streets in the face of state repression.
Ben Ali has clamped down on the internet and independent media outlets.
Despite this, grainy videos online show police firing tear gas into crowds of young people and trade unionists. One protester picks up a canister—on it is printed, “For use only on animals and during war.”
In Thala, where police killed six at the weekend, military vehicles patrolled the streets.
Police have fired on the funeral processions of those who have died in the violence.
The majority of the country’s 8,000 lawyers struck on Thursday of last week and joined protests in cities across the country, including the capital Tunis where police attacked them.
Most schools in the region of Sidi Bouzid, where the protests started, struck on the same day.
Meanwhile intense protests have spread across Algeria.
Young people and trade unionists have fought with police, throwing fireworks and petrol bombs at them, and burning cars and tyres in the streets.
Government-imposed dramatic rises in food prices, particularly sugar, flour and milk, sparked the riots.
Protesters chanted, “We want sugar” and waved bread just like some on protests in Tunisia have done.
Algeria is an oil rich country, but the vast majority see none of the benefits.
They live in poverty in slums. Their only hope of freedom and work is to emigrate.
One protester was filmed saying, “We’re rioting because we do not trust the government. The next ten years will be the same as the previous ten.
“Our choices are to move to Europe or go to prison.”
The police are reported to have killed five protesters so far and more than a thousand have been arrested.
The first to be killed was Azzedine Lebza, aged just 18.
The governments of Tunisia and Algeria rely upon a lack of democracy and police brutality.
Ben Ali took office in a coup in 1987.
And in Algeria, the military still play a dominant role.
Both regimes are ruthless—but their rule is being brought into question by competition at the top and growing pressure from below.