Small bits of spaces
Ghania Khelifi - 30/06/2010
Summer 2010 has made its way in Algeria and beaches are already crowded. Middle class people have already planned their holidays in Tunisia and the others have their eye on eventual holiday camps where they can send their children for a while. The majority will as usual attend wedding receptions and get bored in the neighbourhood. At this time of the year, young people in particular feel every gap vis-à-vis the children of the nomenklatura. Of course, one can go to the beach by bus but sometimes, on the other side of the barrier they see girls wearing bikinis laughing with boys wearing designer sunglasses and accessories. The most affluent persons have used the years of terrorism to define certain boundaries excluding other populations. Since then, the country is divided into “high security” zones requiring credentials at their entrance.
This is the case of the portable offices of the oil town of Hassi Messaoud in the South where a pass and proof of official residences in the North are required. The Club des Pins (Pine Club), originally a resort situated at the west of the capital city remains the best known and the most coveted of the latter. At the Club des Pins , Moretti and others, Algerian official residents benefit privately from public beaches guarded by an armada of policemen dedicated to the only mission of repressing all those waves of people trying desperately to enter the official garden of Eden. You don’t go to the Club des Pins if you’re a young chaab, i.e. with no relations nor fortune. This privatization of a public space is the jealously preserved heritage of the 1990’s. The state had hosted senior officials, ministers and councillors in his residencies in order to better protect them from terrorist attacks. Many journalists were also lodged in these kinds of places. Today, the residents who are often those people who confirm that security is now guaranteed still live with their families under high protection.
Their villas in town are rented and their children can live among the privileged. In order to reach the Club des Pins , one has to pass several police checkpoints, a remnant of terrorism. Then, at the entrance, the badge delivered only to those identified on the happy few list is required. Used to supplications and to the thousand tricks of the candidates for entry policemen always remain unperturbed. The young people in the popular districts don’t try this incursion anymore. It has been a long time since they have understood that beyond this security cord, it’s not their country anymore but an arrogant Algeria, a social climber that they abhor. The residencies reserved to the government’s clients are not the only public space confiscated under the guise of terrorist threat. Cities are disfigured by concrete blocks that close streets and prevent access to places making traffic even more problematic. Circulating in Algeria and especially in its capital city make people become nervous-wrecks, as there are so many police roadblocks. All this control that gives the unpleasant feeling of being constantly suspected has diminished mobility year after year. It is at one of these checkpoints that Kader Djaballah has been arrested. He was on his way to get some fresh air on the snow-covered Mount Chréa. As soon as the policeman has his identity card, he tells him he’s under arrest. Kader doesn’t understand anything but he finds himself in prison. He gets to know that he had been summoned as a witness in a theft case but since he had never received any letter, the judge condemned him in absentia believing he was on the run. In order to be liberated, the theft victim has to declare that he has nothing to do with it and Kader’s family has to pay 70 million cents. Since then, like other young people, he is never at ease when he finds himself at a roadblock. Identity verifications and the policemen’s aggressiveness are part of their everyday life. “It’s normal”, one says in Algeria where no one expects that his freedom of movement should be respected and let alone these boys who are constantly suspected of trafficking and of terrorist attacks. With regards to girls, terrorism hasn’t changed much. Their access to public space has always been prohibited beyond a certain time of the day, let’s say at dusk and in certain conditions. Even those who would be ready to defy this social curfew know that they would be putting their security at risk. Algerian cities are generally unsafe and even more for young girls.
In Algiers, it is easy to observe that no woman wears gold jewellery around her neck or visible earrings. They would be immediately pulled off by a thief, often a little boy. Today’s youngsters have not known the time when women used to stroll down the streets loaded with jewels. At that time, hardly fifteen years ago in fact, resembles to a sort of tale told by doting elders. They themselves know that they are at the mercy of a police patrol when they are sitting right in front of their building in the evening or at the mercy of a judge because they were there at the time of an attack, an assault or a protest. Public space has become hostile but they don’t know otherwise.
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech