When the French surrendered Algeria in 1962, those who were at all circumspect about the legacy of French colonialism comforted themselves with one fact: at the dawn of independent Algeria, the Algerian birthrate was strong. Sartre’s reply was caustic, and to the quick: “They would do well to remember that it is the poorest countries that have the highest birthrates.”
Here are some things we know: since 1988, when youth protests lit the fuse on what would become the Algerian civil war, the population of Algeria has more than doubled. Some seventy-five percent of that population is now under the age of thirty. Unemployment, officially, runs around fifteen percent. For young people it is much higher, nearer to twenty or twenty-five. Some speculate that it’s higher still, more like thirty or thirty-five. Figures and estimates are easy to come by. Their accuracy is harder to judge.
Here are some other things we know: Algeria is blessed with the world’s largest proven reserve of natural gas, and its third largest reserve of petroleum. US-run Halliburton does big business in the south, working in both energy and defense, but the majority of foreign investment comes out of Europe. Algeria, in turn, supplies Europe with the vast majority of its natural gas. As throughout Africa, China has been dumping vast fortunes into the development of infrastructure, but it is Chinese laborers who do the work.
Foreign capital flows into the south. The majority of the population lives in the north. European businessmen can now fly direct from Paris to Hassi Messaoud without ever setting foot in Algiers.
When money makes money, labor is an afterthought, a redundancy.
This is not about the slumbering masses of the Arab world.