Young men are deserting their homeland of Algeria by the thousands. Some are drawn north across the Mediterranean, others into Libya, into jihad. It’s slowly becoming clear to Europeans that they need to take a look at Algeria, the largest country in Africa by land mass but among the continent’s most unobtrusive nations. What they see doesn’t bode well.
Bab el Oued, a poor man’s district in the heart of the country’s capital, Algiers, is on the square of the three clocks. Today, on a sunny Thursday in January, the whole world is out and about because all the stores close on Friday. You see old women with white triangular scarves covering their mouths and noses. The scarves taper to a point in front; the women look like birds while wearing the traditional aâjars.
Two men are sitting in a café, discussing politics. They do so without looking to the right or the left – a characteristic precautionary measure in most nations run by dictatorships. The two laugh over a joke that’s going round: The government has raised gas prices to prevent the unemployed from immolating themselves.