Two words in the local lexicon encapsulate Algeria’s malaise: hogra and haraga. The first encompasses a range of gloomy feelings that affect Algerians: a sense of humiliation and oppression, a denial of dignity. This leads to the second increasingly common word, literally meaning “those who burn”.
It is applied to the growing number of Algerians wanting to emigrate illegally to get a better life abroad, involving the burning of identity papers. So far this year some 13,000 have reached Spain in rickety boats.
A recent article in Le Monde, a French newspaper, headed “Suitcase or prison”, explained why leading human-rights campaigners feel impelled to emigrate. “I had to flee to stay alive,” said Aïssa Rahmoune, a lawyer.
Algerians with enough money or connections to leave legally often head for Europe, America or the Gulf. Of those who get visas to study abroad, “90% don’t come back home,” says a seasoned Western business visitor. (Like all foreigners and resident Algerians interviewed for this article, he requested anonymity, a telling reflection on the regime.)
For the moment, three factors stifle the disgruntlement. One is the high price of gas and oil, which account for 90% of foreign currency earnings. Europe is thirsting especially for Algeria’s abundant gas. The second is the social contract whereby the basics of life—staple foods, electricity, cooking oil, petrol and housing—are massively subsidised. This puts Algeria a shade ahead of its north African peers in the un’s human-development index. “No one goes hungry,” concedes a critic of the regime.