Eid al-Adha R370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
HADJOUT, Algeria - This year's Muslim Id al-Adha feast will
not be the same for Mohamed Acham and his family. Soaring prices in Algeria mean
he will not be able to sacrifice a sheep as tradition demands.
Muslims worldwide, Algerians slaughter large numbers of sheep for the joyful
religious holiday to be celebrated there on Friday, but this year many are
"For the first time in years, I cannot afford a sheep for
this Id. Prices have tripled," said Acham, leaning on a wall at a cattle market
in the town of Hadjout, west of Algiers.
Fruit and vegetable prices have
also climbed, making life harder for Algerian families who in the last few weeks
have also had to foot the bill for school expenses, extra food costs for the
holy month of Ramadan and the Id al-Fitr feast afterwards.
prices pushed inflation up to 9.3 percent in the first half of 2012 from 3.8
percent in the same period last year, according to the latest official
Algeria experienced food riots early last year, but escaped a
full-scale uprising like those that toppled some Arab rulers elsewhere, partly
because the government raised wages for public sector employees and deferred tax
payments to defuse discontent.
The north African nation of 37 million
people could afford to do this, and to subsidize staple goods, because of the
oil and gas which account for 97 percent of its exports. It depends heavily on
food imports from European Union countries.
Bouteflika's government subsidizes wheat, milk, sugar, electricity and water, as
well as fuel.
"Maintaining subsidies has put off social unrest," said
economist Abdelwahab Boukrouh, but warned that declining purchasing power would
hit the unemployed and the poor hardest.
"Inflation is expected to
continue its upward trend. The government made a mistake. It should have
improved domestic production instead of increasing wages," he
said.Import duties suspended
"National production meets only 30 percent
of our (food) needs," Boukrouh said. "This is why vegetable and fruit prices
will keep soaring, supported by speculation and the government's inability to
regulate the market." Many Algerians cannot afford red meat, now at 1,300 dinars
($17.50) per kg, but chicken has also gone up in recent weeks.
government has responded by suspending import duties on animal feed such as
maize and soya to offset high world prices.
"Our primary goal is to
mitigate these effects and protect our poultry industry which has 35,000
farmers, 100,000 direct jobs and 300,000 indirect jobs," Agriculture Minister
Rachid Benaissa said.
Trade Minister Mustapha Benbada has said the
government was planning to establish several wholesale food markets for
consumers to try to reduce prices and bring them under control.
critics say the authorities are not doing enough.
"It's the duty of
government to find mechanisms to protect the purchasing power of citizens and
revise the tax on total income," said opposition Workers Party deputy Ismail
Kouadria, a former union leader at the Algerian unit of ArcelorMittal , the
world's largest steelmaker.
Popular frustration over living standards
does not stop at soaring food prices before a Muslim festival. A chronic
shortage of affordable housing is a frequent focus of street
Aware of public grievances, the government is struggling to
meet demand for state-subsidised housing, despite a construction drive involving
mainly Chinese companies to fulfil a pledge to build 2.4 million units in the
five years from 2010 to 2014.
"I'm sure if there is fairness in
distributing homes, citizens will not be discontented," Prime Minister
Abdelmalek Sellal told a meeting of senior provincial officials last
He urged them to show sensitivity towards their compatriots. "I
don't want you to launch a war against Algerians. It's true that rigour is
necessary, but through dialogue," Sellal said.
Algeria may have avoided a
popular revolt, but people like Acham must now break the news to their families
that there will be no sheep to feast on during this year's Id
"I have to get ready to cope with an uprising at home," the
53-year-old father of five smiled.