Before Mostaganem became a place where the locals tried everything to run away from it, it was a lovely weekend destination by the sea for tourists. Over time, more and more young adventurers escaped to Europe from their homes in different cities in Algeria, leaving behind the political and economic failures, repression, unemployment, the rising cost of living, and the disappointment with the government. This week’s New York Times reported the emigration crisis in Algeria, written by Kamel Daoud, a native of the once-prosperous city Mostaganem, published on April 8th, 2018, and titled Can It Be Illegal to Leave Your Country? in response to the criminalization of emigration by the Algerian government.
In Algeria, those who left home were called harragas, meaning the bold and the crazy. The adventurer’s group was pretty diverse, at least much more diverse than the country’s political administration demography. The harragas usually sang on the boat while rowing down the river, celebrating the route leading to a new life and endless possibilities. However, although the route might lead to happiness, it might also lead to death. Nevertheless, the dangerous journey has not yet discouraged people from escaping, as their motherland isn’t attractive to them anymore.
The government’s failure in politics and economy has a greater impact on young people, resulting not only in the lack of employment, opportunities, and leisure activities, but also in the lack of democracy, freedom of expression, and access to happiness. Young Algerian people were isolated from gaining their desired life by the connection of power under the rising Islamism and gerontocracy. Many towns and villages throughout Algeria have no recreational actives for young people. There are no movies theatres, no swimming pools, no dance floors or restaurants, and no kissing in public.
More and more people joined the dangerous journey. The situation was worsened when the government made it illegal in 2009 for any citizen of Algeria to attempt to leave the country. If they did, they were subjected to a fine and a prison term of two to six months, leading to an increasing number of emigrations.
The government’s failure in building a nation that is attractive to its own people reveals its useless administrative strategies and non-transparent decision-making process. It violates the basic human rights of its people, including freedom of expression to speak out their needs and desires. It oppresses the potential of the young people under a rigid Caesaropapism, which combines the power of secular government with the Islamic power.
The Algerian government should introspect their administrative strategies, addressing its people’s needs to prevent potential violent protests or a civil war. They should recognize that an oppressive government will not lead to the building of an attractive and prosperous country for its own citizens or tourists. An effective and good governance does not necessarily come from removal or criminalization of unwanted behaviour. It should address the basic human rights, needs, and necessities of its people. To achieve this, the government should first reform itself by getting a more diverse administrative group on board, and then balance the religious power and secular power to ensure the freedom of expression of all citizens.