Perhaps not so much next as in parallel, Algeria seems headed for the same unrest that toppled autocracies in Tunisia and Egypt. Police are trying in vain to shut down demonstrations in the streets of Algiers, with decreasing success over the past two or three weeks:
Tensions erupted in another restive North African nation as security forces in Algeria on Saturday clashed with anti-government protesters chanting “change the power.”
Police detained about 100 protesters in the nation’s capital of Algiers, according to the Algerian League for Human Rights. The league is one of the main opposition groups that organized the rallies — unauthorized gatherings that came a day after embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, with police rounding up protesters in small groups to break up the crowds, and anti-riot police gathered at the scene.
Khalil AbdulMouminm, the general secretary for the Algerian league, called the situation “very tense on the ground” and said police were preventing protesters from assembling, with authorities blocking all entrances to the capital.
Algeria has been at this much longer than Egypt. The former French colony erupted into civil war twenty years ago — and democracy wasn’t on the agenda of either side. The military seized control after it appeared that radical Islamists might win elections in 1991, and the two sides have fought each other ever since. Over the last few years, the military staged elections that their candidate won and Islamists have found themselves marginalized in the war, but the violence and the Islamist insurgency is far from over.
The Algerian people certainly must long for both peace and freedom, but as in Egypt, the military and the Islamists have the strongest organizations in the field. The “liberation” of Algeria from its military dictatorship might wind up being a Trojan horse for al-Qaeda affiliated groups to seize power for themselves.
Meanwhile in Tunisia, where it appeared that a velvet revolution has a smoother transition to liberal democracy, people have begun fleeing in boats into the Mediterranean:
Hundreds of Tunisians arrived by the boatload Friday on a tiny Sicilian island, fleeing chaos in their homeland and prompting Italy to demand that the EU take stronger action to prevent an uncontrolled wave of migrants from North Africa.
On Friday afternoon alone four boats crowded with a total of some 300 Tunisians reached Lampedusa, an island that is closer to northern Africa than it is to the Italian mainland. Earlier in the day, the U.N. refugee agency said some 1,600 Tunisians had landed in Italy since Jan. 16, with half of them coming in the last few days.
Italian Coast Guard boats, which spotted them approaching shore, escorted to the boats to the island. Coast Guard video showed hundreds of Tunisians, predominantly young men, crowded on the decks of motorized fishing boats.
This could be any number of things, most of them bad. The best it might be is that Ben Ali’s political cronies escaping before a new Tunisian government holds them accountable for the previous regime, but those would be likely to have better resources for escape than floating out into the Mediterranean. Italy worries that these may be terrorists recently released from Tunisian prisons, seeking to infiltrate Europe under the guise of refugees. Perhaps as bad, they could be people who may be seeing something very different than the liberal democracy that the media presumed would follow Ben Ali’s hasty exit.