Why Syrians in the southern city of Suweida are risking everything to protest

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People protest in the Syria's southern city of Sweida on September 1, 2023. (Suwayda24 via AFP)
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People wave Druze flags during a protest rally in the southern city of Sweida, Syria, on Sept. 15, 2023. (Suwayda24 via AP)
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Thousands of Syrians staging a protest and waving Druze flags in the southern city of Suweida on September 15, 2023. (AP).
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People protest in the Syria's southern city of Sweida on September 1, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2023

Why Syrians in the southern city of Suweida are risking everything to protest

  • Faced with a ballooning budget deficit, the government has taken painful and unpopular austerity measures
  • Most Syrians in regime-held areas were already living below poverty line prior to recent fuel subsidy cuts

LONDON: Protests in the Syrian city of Suweida have been going on more than a month now, with crowds usually gathering in the central Al-Karama Square, calling on the government in Damascus to implement economic and political reforms.

On Friday between 3,500 and 4,000 people rallied in the southern city — the largest in nearly a month of anti-regime demonstrations that have intensified as Syrians reel from the economic impact of war.

The demonstrations in Suweida and nearby Deraa — where the 2011 uprising began — started after President Bashar Assad’s regime reduced fuel subsidies and raised gasoline prices by nearly 250 percent in August.

Hyperinflation is just one of the many problems Syrians are forced to deal with in their day-to-day lives. But it is no ordinary challenge given that an estimated 90 percent of Syrian citizens in government-held areas now live below the poverty line, and half the population faces food insecurity.

Aside from dire economic conditions and poor living standards, Syrians are also frustrated with their continuing lack of basic rights.

“Undoubtedly, recent economic decisions have sparked the protests, yet society is on the brink of turmoil because the problem extends beyond mere living demands,” Ayham Azzam, head of the Suweida-based Juzour civil society group, told Arab News.

People protest in the Syria's southern city of Sweida on September 5, 2023. (AFP)

The protesters have wider demands beyond economic ones, which include “political, social and civil rights, as well as public freedoms and the release of detainees,” he added.

On Friday, the media outlet Suwayda24 published videos showing thousands of men and women chanting anti-regime slogans and waving Druze flags. Although the protests remain confined to southern cities, observers said they are reflective of political sentiments prevalent across the country.

“While large-scale public demonstrations remain relatively scarce, there is a noticeable shift in the Syrian populace’s willingness to openly and boldly voice criticism of their government and leadership,” Camille Otrakji, a Syrian Canadian analyst, told Arab News.

A handout picture released by the Suwayda 24 news site shows people protesting in the southern Syrian city of Sweida on August 25, 2023.  (Suwayda 24 handout/AFP)

In August, the Syrian pound fell to a record low on the black market of 15,500 pounds to the dollar, according to state media. The official state bank rate is 10,800 pounds to the dollar.

The government has doubled public-sector pay, increasing the minimum monthly salary to 185,940 pounds, the equivalent of about $22. However, this has done little to lessen the privations experienced by those living in government-held areas, who have had to tighten their belts.

“By lifting subsidies, the government continues its withdrawal from supporting poor and needy households and proceeds further in transferring the economic burden onto civil society, expatriates and humanitarian organizations,” Mohammad Al-Asadi, a research economist for the Syrian Center for Policy Research who is based in Germany, told Arab News.


Protests erupted in the city of Suweida after the government slashed fuel subsidies.

Economic situation deemed worse now than at the height of civil war that began in 2011.

With about 70 percent of the Syrian population requiring aid, according to UN figures, local charities are struggling to meet the growing demand.

During a recent visit to Damascus, Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, warned that the situation in the country has “become worse than it was, economically, during the height of the conflict.”

Speaking in the Syrian capital following a meeting with Faisal Mekdad, the country’s foreign minister, he added: “We cannot accept that funding for Syria is going down while the humanitarian needs are increasing.

"When people are hungry they eat their leaders, they don't eat stones", screams one placard in Arabic during a demonstration against dire living conditions in the southern Syrian city of Sweida on August 23, 2023. (Suwayda 24 handout photo via AFP)

“For Syria, without addressing the political consequences of this crisis, the deep economic crisis and humanitarian suffering will also continue.”

Huda Al-Ahmad, 50, who is the sole breadwinner in her household, lost her job months ago. She said her family have suffered for more than a year since the Damascus-based charity Al-Mabarrat stopped providing basic foodstuffs to her neighborhood.

“Coffee used to be a daily necessity for every household in Damascus. It is now a luxury,” she told Arab News. “We never thought twice before buying it but now we cannot afford an ounce a month. It would cost 5,000 Syrian pounds to make three shots of coffee.”

Syrians waiting in a queue to buy bread at a shop in Binnish, in northwestern Idlib province. The current economic situation may be worse than it was during the height of the conflict. (AFP file photo)

Meanwhile, the daily commute to Damascus from Sitt Zaynab in Rif Dimashq, where Al-Ahmad lives, costs at least 4,000 Syrian pounds.

“My daughter and I have been ill for nearly a week, unable even to afford paracetamol,” she said. “We have not bought any kind of fruit, meat or dessert for almost a year unless we give up rice and wheat for a couple of months.”

Analysts believe policies that could boost economic activity, reduce tax evasion, combat corruption and cut military expenditure are infeasible as they would require political will, engagement with civil society in the decision-making process, and representative institutions.

“These prerequisites are impossible to reach under the existing socioeconomic and political structures,” said Al-Asadi.

The protests in Sweida province, the heartland of the country's Druze minority, began after the Syrian government ended fuel subsidies in August, dealing a heavy blow to Syrians reeling from war and a crippling economic crisis. (AFP)

Instead, he added, the current policies will “deepen (the) poverty gap, as tens of thousands of poor Syrian households are expected to fall way below the overall poverty line into extreme poverty. Lifting subsidies is the easiest and fastest way to reduce the budget deficit.”

Despite the rapidly declining living standards, nongovernmental organizations and the Damascus municipality recently collaborated on giving one of the capital’s public spaces a makeover.

Photos of the revamped Sabaa Bahrat (Seven Fountains) Square, in the vicinity of the central bank, recently went viral on social media, prompting critics to comment that it was distasteful to spend money on urban beautification when so many people in the country were experiencing power cuts and shortages of food and fuel.

This photo taken on June 17, 2020, shows a view of the Sabaa Bahrat (Seven Fountains) Square roundabout in front of the Central bank of Syria in Damascus. (AFP)

“The Sabaa Bahrat roundabout will not provide bread,” Al-Hussain Al-Nayef, chairman of the Syrian National Media Alliance, said in a message posted on Facebook. “What do we gain from this cultural achievement when the impoverished citizens anticipate real change — one that addresses their concerns and lost happiness?”

The renovation was fully funded by private donors, according to reports in January, which quoted Mohammed Eyad Al-Shamaa, chairman of the Damascus Governorate Council, as rejecting claims that the renovation work cost about 5 billion Syrian pounds.

Many local social media commentators said the funds should have been used to help feed the poor and install solar energy solutions to provide street lighting in Damascus, which, like much of the country, suffers regular power shortages.

In this picture taken during a demonstration in Sweida on August 21, 2023, a placard in Arabic reads: "Bashar al-Assad achieved victory only over his people but he didn't defeat Israel." (SUWAYDA24 photo via AFP)

“Syria’s GDP (gross domestic product) and its annual budget have dwindled significantly from their pre-Arab Spring levels,” said Otrakji, the Syrian Canadian analyst. “The Syrian government currently operates with severely limited financial resources, a situation that is far from sustainable in the long run.

“In this precarious financial state, Syria is poised to seek assistance, either from willing Arab states or by deepening its reliance on Iran.”

He lamented the fact that “beyond the stark divergence in expectations regarding the elusive political solution in Syria,” the country has become “a fertile ground for regional and international conflicts.”

He added: “Regrettably, none of these conflicts show signs of nearing resolution, further entrenching Syria as a battleground for competing interests.”

This picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on May 4, 2023, shows Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (C) attending a business forum in Damascus. (SANA handout via AFP)

Azzam, from the civil society group Juzour, is convinced that the Syrian regime is incapable of reviving the moribund economy without some progress on the political front.

“The country is in ruins — economically, socially, culturally and intellectually,” he said. “This has produced a pressing need for a fresh social agreement that marks a significant phase in which Syria is for all citizens and an integral part of the global community.

“Given the circumstances, all attempts to improve the economic situation will likely fail. And even if they do succeed, it would be a temporary, unsustainable success.”


Yemen’s state-run airline suspends the only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds

Updated 4 sec ago

Yemen’s state-run airline suspends the only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds

  • Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa to the Jordanian capital of Amman
  • Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country
CAIRO: Yemen’s state-run carrier has suspended the only air route out of the country’s rebel-held capital to protest Houthi restrictions on its funds, officials said Sunday.
Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa’s international airport to the Jordanian capital of Amman. The airline had been operating six commercial and humanitarian flights a week between Sanaa and Amman as of the end of September.
The Sanaa-Amman air route was reintroduced last year as part of a UN-brokered cease-fire between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government. The cease-fire agreement expired in October 2022, but the warring factions refrained from taking measures that would lead to a flare-up of all-out fighting.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile.
The airline blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for the move because they were withholding $80 million in the company’s funds in Houthi-controlled banks in Sanaa. It said in a statement on Saturday that the rebels rejected a proposal to release 70 percent of the funds. The statement said the airline’s sales in Sanaa exceed 70 percent of its revenues.
The statement said the Houthi ban on the funds was linked to “illegal and unreasonable demands, and caused severe damage to the airline’s activities.”
The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency quoted an unnamed source condemning the airline’s move. The source was quoted as saying that the rebels offered to release 60 percent of the airline’s funds in Sanaa.
Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country. The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
The dispute between the Houthis and the national airline comes as the rebels and Saudi Arabia have appeared close to a peace agreement in recent months. Saudi Arabia received a Houthi delegation last month for peace talks, saying the negotiations had “positive results.”
The Saudi-Houthi efforts, however, were overshadowed by an attack blamed on the Houthis last week that killed four Bahraini troops who were part of a coalition force patrolling Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
The Houthis, meanwhile, barred four activists from the Mwatana for Human Rights group from boarding their flight at Sanaa airport on Saturday “without providing legal justification,” group said.
It said that Houthi officials interrogated Mwatana’s chairperson Radhya Al-Mutawakel, her deputy and three other members before telling them that they were barred from travel according to “higher orders.”
A spokesman for the rebels was not immediately available for comment.
Mwatana said the ban was “just one episode in a long series of violations” by the rebels at the Sanaa airport on land routes linking rebel-held areas with other parts of Yemen.
The rebels also rounded up dozens of people who took to the streets last month in the Houthi-held areas, including Sanaa, to commemorate the anniversary of Yemen’s Sep. 26 revolution, which marks the establishment of Yemen’s republic in 1962, Amnesty International said.
“It is outrageous that demonstrators commemorating a national historical moment found themselves attacked, arrested, and facing charges simply because they were waving flags,” Amnesty said, and called on Houthis to immediately release those detained.

Suicide attack wounds 2 police officers in Ankara near parliament: Interior Minister

Updated 44 min ago

Suicide attack wounds 2 police officers in Ankara near parliament: Interior Minister

ANKARA: A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in the Turkish capital Ankara on Sunday, wounding 2 police officers, the Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.

Turkish media reported a loud explosion was heard in the heart of the Turkish capital, near the Parliament.

Parliament was scheduled to reopen on Sunday following a summer recess.



Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Activists

Updated 01 October 2023

Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Activists

  • The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year

PARIS: Iranian security forces made dozens of arrests Saturday as protesters in the southeast commemorated the killing of dozens of demonstrators in the region one year ago, human rights groups said.
At least 104 people were killed, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO, in what is known as “Bloody Friday,” when security forces fired on a protest in Zahedan, the main city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, on September 30 last year.
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year.
The Zahedan protests were triggered by reports a teenage girl had been raped in custody by a police commander and took place in parallel to nationwide demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.
Activists have long complained that the ethnic Baluch population in Sistan-Baluchistan, who adhere to Sunni Islam not the Shiite branch of the faith dominant in Iran, suffer from discrimination.
Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds for a second straight day to disperse protesters who turned out in Zahedan to mark the anniversary, the Baluch-focused rights group Haalvsh said.
Throughout Saturday, businesses in Zahedan and other towns observed a general strike, it said, adding that “dozens” of people had been arrested.
The group posted footage with the sound of gunfire clearly audible amid a heavy security presence in the city.
Security forces had already used live fire to disperse protesters on Friday, wounding at least 25 people, including children, according to the Baloch Activists Campaign group. There was no immediate word on any casualties in Saturday’s unrest.
Even as the protest movement dwindled elsewhere in Iran, residents of Zahedan have held regular Friday protests throughout the past 12 months.
The city’s Friday prayer leader, Molavi Abdolhamid, who has been outspoken in his support of the protests over the past year, issued a new call for justice over “Bloody Friday,” telling the faithful to “know your rights.”
Footage posted on social media on Friday showed chaotic scenes as hospitals filled with injured, including children, while people on the streets sought to escape to safety amid the sound of heavy gunfire.
IHR said that the protests in Zahedan and other cities were again “brutally crushed” with authorities using “live ammunition, pellet bullets and tear gas against unarmed protesters.”
The executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, condemned the “horrifying display of indiscriminate violence... as the state attempts to suppress peaceful demonstrations.”
“It is imperative for the international community to shine a spotlight on this violence and to hold Iranian officials accountable in international courts, invoking the principle of international jurisdiction,” he said.

No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict

Updated 6 min 41 sec ago

No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict

  • South Sudan is no stranger to humanitarian crisis, having had its own share since achieving statehood in 2011
  • Experts say the country is in no position to handle the large and sudden influx of displaced people from Sudan

NAIROBI: Civilians displaced by the conflict in Sudan have sought sanctuary in the world’s youngest country next door, the Republic of South Sudan, only to face a daunting new set of challenges.

An estimated 250,000 people — including a large number of South Sudanese who had been living in Sudan — have crossed the border since fighting erupted in Sudan in April, with many now housed in overcrowded camps lacking food, sanitation and basic healthcare services.

High malnutrition rates and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles among the new arrivals testify to the dire health conditions, which aid agencies operating in the area say is one of the many serious causes for concern.

Luggage is transported on a donkey-drawn cart at Sudan’s Qalabat border crossing with Ethiopia on July 31, 2023 amid fighting between the Sudan armed forces and paramilitary RSF. (AFP file photo)

The UN has given warning that the number of people fleeing Sudan could double by the end of the year unless a settlement between the warring parties is reached soon.

Aside from being unprepared to absorb this tide of humanity in search of shelter and sustenance, South Sudan’s own political and economic shortcomings render it an ineffective broker in ending the conflict in Sudan.

This is despite the mediation efforts of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who recently hosted Sudan’s de-facto leader and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in the capital Juba.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, right, welcomes Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council and Sudan’s armed force chief, in Juba, South Sudan, on Sept. 04, 2023. (Handout photo via Getty Images)

South Sudan is no stranger to hardship and adversity, having had its fair share of conflicts since gaining independence in 2011. Like its northern neighbor, from which it seceded, South Sudan is also grappling with political volatility and ethnic strife.

Add to the mix South Sudan’s limited resources and rudimentary infrastructure, and the country is in no position to handle such a large and sudden influx of impoverished people.

“The majority of these refugees are women, children, and young adults, with a notable concentration of youth between the ages of 12 and 22,” John Dabi, South Sudan’s deputy commissioner for refugee affairs, told Arab News.


250,000 Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese returnees who have crossed the border since the conflict began.

5 million Total number of people uprooted by the conflict, including 1 million who have fled to neighboring countries.

7,500 People killed since the onset of violence, according to conservative estimates of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Particularly, Juba and the border town of Renk have come under pressure from a sudden explosion in population, which has led to an acute shortage of basic necessities, including food, medicine and shelter.

Then there is the impact of a fickle climate, as South Sudan’s rainy season leads to the flooding of entire districts and turns roads into impassable mud tracks, hindering aid deliveries and access to remote refugee camps.

Predictably, South Sudan’s economy is a shambles, despite the recent launch of the National Economic Conference, which is meant to accelerate development.

A boy walks at a camp for displaced persons in Bentiu, South Sudan. (AFP file photo)

Firas Raad, the World Bank representative in South Sudan, recently urged the government to strive for more stable macroeconomic conditions, robust public financial management, and effective governance reforms to improve conditions for its people.

The parlous state of the country’s economy calls into question Juba’s credibility as a mediator in Sudan’s conflict, Suzanne Jambo, a South Sudanese policy analyst and former government adviser, told Arab News.

“South Sudan still struggles to achieve a stable transition to a permanent status, including a unified army, agreed-upon constitutional arrangements, and fairly elected representatives, not to mention conducting the elections,” she said.

Instability in South Sudan is not just attributable to issues of governance and economics. The ethnic and tribal spillovers of the Sudanese conflict are all too evident, with millions fleeing to neighboring countries and exposing the political divisions within Sudan and along its porous borders.

For instance, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group has been recruiting fighters from among Darfur’s Arab tribes.

Internally displaced women fetch water from a well in Bentiu in South Sudan. (AFP file photo)

Given the possibility of further escalation of ethnic tensions, experts believe coordinated efforts are essential for the proper distribution of humanitarian aid as well as conflict prevention and resolution strategies.

Sudanese civilians arriving in South Sudan represent a mosaic of backgrounds mirroring the country’s ethnic, racial and religious diversity. To minimize the chances of inter-communal violence, separate settlements, rather than traditional refugee camps, have been established.

“A critical aspect of managing the refugee crisis is preventing inter-community conflicts,” said Dabi, the deputy commissioner for refugee affairs. However, the most pressing issue facing displaced Sudanese in South Sudan is the scarcity of essential resources, he added.

The situation of people who crossed over from Sudan into other neighboring countries appears to be equally dire.

In Chad, where more than 400,000 people have fled the violence in Darfur, aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres says the situation has become so desperate that “people are feeding their children on insects, grass, and leaves.”

People wait next to passenger buses as smoke billows in an area in Khartoum where fighting between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary forces continues to this day. (AFP file photo)

Amid severe shortages, “some have gone five weeks without receiving food,” Susana Borges, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Adre, said in a statement. Camps also lack water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care.

“The most urgent health needs we are dealing with are malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition,” Borges added. According to the UN, dozens of children under the age of five have already died of malnutrition in Chadian camps.

The conflict in Sudan, now in its fifth month, was triggered by a plan to incorporate the RSF into the SAF.

On April 15 a long-running power struggle between the Al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, suddenly escalated, prompting the evacuation of foreign nationals and embassy staff.

At least 7,500 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and the troubled western Darfur region, where the worst of the violence has been taking place, have seen “intensified shelling” as the SAF and the RSF target each other’s bases with “artillery and rocket fire.”

Black smoke billows behind buildings amid ongoing fighting in Khartoum. (AFP)

In central Khartoum, the SAF controls the skies and has carried out regular air strikes, while RSF fighters dominate the streets.

In South Darfur’s regional capital, Nyala, residents say fighter jets have been targeting “RSF leadership.” However, reports from the ground suggest civilians are routinely caught in the crossfire.

UN figures show the fighting has uprooted more than five million people from their homes, including one million who have crossed international borders into neighboring countries.

Over the weekend, a cholera outbreak was reported in eastern Sudan and investigations launched to check whether it had spread to Khartoum and South Kordofan state.

A street vendor sells shoes and slippers in Port Sudan, Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2023. (REUTERS)

The conflict has also seen a surge in gender-based violence, as confirmed by numerous credible reports of rape, human trafficking, and increase in early marriage.

Despite multiple diplomatic efforts to broker a truce, the conflict has continued and intensified, leaving those displaced with little prospect of returning to their homes any time soon.

As South Sudan struggles to accommodate its own citizens previously living in Sudan, a recent visit to the country by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, suggests the international community is taking notice.

However, Peter Van der Auweraert, the UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, has cautioned there could be a significant decline in humanitarian assistance for the country next year.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says humanitarian aid organizations are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced, with only 19 percent of the $1 billion requested from donors so far received.


Algeria expands English-language learning as France’s influence ebbs

Updated 30 September 2023

Algeria expands English-language learning as France’s influence ebbs

  • Mali this year changed its constitution to remove French from its list of official languages, and Morocco made English classes compulsory in high schools

ALGIERS: More than a year after Algeria launched a pilot program to teach English in elementary schools, the country is hailing it as a success and expanding it in a move that reflects a widening linguistic shift underway in former French colonies throughout Africa.

Students returning to third and fourth-grade classrooms this fall will participate in two 45-minute English classes each week as the country creates new teacher training programs at universities and eyes more transformational changes in the years ahead. Additionally, the government is strengthening enforcement of a preexisting law against private schools that operate primarily in French.

“Teaching English is a strategic choice in the country’s new education policy,” Education Minister Abdelkrim Belabed said last week, lauding the move as an immense success.

English is the world’s most widely spoken language, accounts for the majority of content on the internet, and remains a lingua franca in business and science. As France’s economic and political influence wanes throughout Africa, Algeria is among a longer list of countries gradually transitioning toward English as their primary foreign language.

This year, neighboring Mali changed its constitution to remove French from its list of official languages, and Morocco made English classes compulsory in high schools.

Algeria has more French speakers than all but two nations — France itself and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the International Organization of the French Language, nearly 15 million out of the country’s 44 million speak it. Its officials frame English classes as a practical rather than political shift, noting the language’s importance in scientific and technical fields.

But questions about France’s position in Algerian society have long been polarizing, as teachers and former education policy officials acknowledge.

Retired high school principal Mohammed Arezki Ferdi believes Algeria should have begun the shift to English decades ago. 

The current initiative was launched by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who came to power in 2019. 

Previous leaders also tried to expand English but failed to overcome the French-educated elites who had long wielded power in the country.

“We lost a lot of time,” Ferdi said. 

“We should have introduced English in primary schools when President (Abdelaziz) Bouteflika laid out his reform after coming to power in 1991. But at that time, French-speaking factions in Algeria had a lot of decision-making power in institutions.”

The expansion of English language learning comes as tensions increasingly flare between France and Algeria. 

The two share security interests over the political upheavals shaping contemporary West Africa. 

However, in recent years, they have sparred repeatedly over immigration, extradition, and how each country memorializes colonialism and the brutal war that resulted in Algeria’s independence in 1962. Algeria plans to expand its current program to fifth grade next year. 

It will continue instructing students in French for three hours each week in elementary schools.

When English-language learning was introduced last year, Algerian officials reaffirmed their commitment to French and said it would continue to be taught widely. 

But in remarks this week at the beginning of the school year, Kamal Bedari, Algeria’s minister of Higher Education, said expanding the program was to enable elementary school students to take technical courses later on in English — not French.

Though few dispute that English is essential, some worry about how Algeria is implementing such a shift and caution against declaring victory too soon. Ahmed Tessa, a former adviser to Algeria’s Ministry of Education, believes getting students to master English can only happen gradually and will likely require more than simply adding classes.

“We need to get back to basics,” he said. “This is no small task.”

Regardless of how quickly schools transition to English, signs of pushback against French are clear elsewhere.

Authorities have slowly replaced French with English in the official titles of various government ministries. And on his trip last year to Algiers, the country had French President Emmanuel Macron provide remarks from a podium noting his title and the date in English and Arabic, one of Algeria’s two official languages, along with indigenous Tamazight.