FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Ain Salah Uprising

The city of Ain Salah lies about 750 miles south of Algiers in the Sahara Desert. Its location as a desert oasis relies on a sensitive aquifer system that stretches from Southern Algeria to Tunesia and Libya, and overlaps with at least four intensive shale gas fields. Fracking commenced in the area in 2013, and a mass movement against the practice has rapidly unfolded. This new turn against resource extraction and exploitation has emerged elsewhere in recent months, such as Burkina Faso, as the global push to extract resources ranging from gold to agricultural commodities to fossil fuels has led to widespread dispossession in Africa since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. It carries with it the revolutionary sentiment the drove Algeria to independence from France, leading a tidal wave of liberation movements throughout Africa. Since New Years Eve, four days after fracking operations were announced near the city, Ain Salah has effectively stopped functioning in a conventional way. Commerce and administration has moved between business as usual and an extensive occupation/sit-in of the main square, along with several rallies. Video and photographic evidence has been released exposing harmful pollution and contaminated water supplies, causing an uproar and sense that fracking must be stopped. The companies primarily involved in exploiting shale gas in Algeria include Halliburton and France’s major oil company, Total. After settling a major bribery case in Nigeria in 2010, Halliburton, the leading oilfield services company in the world, began looking to Africa for increased gas exploitation in 2012. As fracking began to slow in the US, they made a major play for Algeria, which has the second highest proven gas reserves in Africa. For its part, Total grabbed oil lands in Libya after the NATO invasion that toppled the government of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, but the collapse of national infrastructure that ensued has significantly hindered the once-strong oil industry. In December 2013, the National Oil Corporation announced its intensions to bolster the economy by allowing oversees corporations like Total to commence fracking operations. The outbreak of violence in Libya had severe repercussions in Mali to the south, as armed militants swept into the country and added a surge to the Tuareg separatist uprising the next year. With hundreds of thousands displaced in the ensuing calamity, increased unrest combined with severe drought and the recent Ebola outbreak to create difficult economic conditions. In an ironic turn, Halliburton was forced to cut 1,000 employees last December, it claimed, due to the turmoil in West Africa caused in no small part by French intervention on behalf of Total’s access to natural resources. Now the two companies are making plays for Algeria’s gas reserves. The combined total assets of Halliburton and Total comes close to 40 percent of Algeria’s GDP, and the President of Algeria, the aging Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has not put up any opposition to their extraction efforts. In his fourth term, Bouteflika, the longest-serving president in Algeria’s history, has weathered substantial protests in 2010 and 2012 calling for his ouster, and today he meets with a movement that extends from Ain Salah to Algiers calling for another way of looking at public control over natural resources. Back to Liberation This different approach was manifested on February 24, when nearly the entire city of Ain Salah, some 40,000 people, took to the square, which has been renamed Place Somoud, or Resistance Square, to celebrate the 44th Anniversary of the nationalization of hydrocarbons by former-President Boumediene. But the new approach is not simply in favor of extraction by a state-owned oil company; the people of Ain Salah seem most concerned with pollution of their delicate aquifer, which imperils the very existence of that place. The struggle is not simply about Ain Salah, as February 24 saw mass demonstrations touch off from the town of Ouragla to Algiers. These protests challenged Algiers’s ban against protests that has been in place since the end of the terrible Civil War that claimed upwards of 150,000 lives between 1991 and 2002. Bouteflika is seen by many as a hero who helped put a stop to the war, but now his regime is challenged by the progression of popular opposition to industrial extraction. There is concern that unrest might cause an opening for another civil war (one that Halliburton and Total could attempt to exploit), prompting harsh police reactions. As police officers pre-empted the protest in Algeria on February 24, arresting some 50 demonstrators while national festivities were held to commemorate the day, Bouteflika’s advisor, M. Boughazi took to national TV to read a 20-minute declaration that included the admonition, “Shale gas is a gift from God, and it is our duty to exploit it.” In the midst of the tensions that loomed over the rest of the week, protests turned violent. When a group of activists arrived at the Halliburton base in Ain Salah to protest, they were met with racist provocations by the police, who continued retaliation measures by conducting forceful arrests. Protestors reacted to the oppressive measures by rallying at the Gendarme station, and police responded with large quantities of tear gas and rubber bullets. The police violence persisted into Resistance Square, where the rally site was destroyed and tents burned, and over the next few days, hundreds of people were arrested and numerous injuries incurred among the mostly-peaceful protestors. Finally, as police attempted to seal off the city and lay siege to the city, protestors began throwing stones. Police retreated, and an uprising was in effect; a police barracks, a residence of the mayor, and several police vehicles were set ablaze. The army was called in, and a tense order once again held. This is the second time serious unrest has been caused in Ain Salah over gas companies—the first having occurred in 2002, due to widespread unemployment and the stringent demands of foreign gas companies. The economic issue stands side-by-side with the environmental one, as civil society searches for better ways of living sustainably outside of the control of corrupt foreign multinationals and a distant government. Fracking and resistance against an effective gas grab in Algeria has become an issue for the opposition to utilize in its attempt to develop another kind of politics in the country. However, the opposition, itself, remains fractured and disorganized. The real issues confronting Algeria are tied to the low petrodollar and the increasing inaccessibility of oil and gas reserves without unconventional practices like fracking, but the gas companies are notoriously unable to carry the weight of unemployment in places like Ain Salah. So, like many places in the world confronted with the curse of extractive industries, Algeria must find a unique way out of the global land grab, and the anti-fracking movement has brought some momentum to thinking broader, long-term solutions in keeping with the revolutionary tradition of decolonization and autogestion. Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). His most recent book Against the Fascist Creep is forthcoming through AK Press.

More articles by:

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). His most recent book Against the Fascist Creep is forthcoming through AK Press.

September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
John Kendall Hawkins
Boning Up on Eternal Recurrence, Kubrick-style: “2001,” Revisited
Haydar Khan
Set Theory of the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail