ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Well, now to Algeria, which borders both Tunisia and Libya, countries that have seen their societies upended this year. People in Algeria, scarred by a civil war in the 1990s, have not rebelled so far. Still, 70 percent of the Algerian population is under the age of 30.
And as Eleanor Beardsley reports, observers warn of growing frustration among young people.
OMAR: (Foreign language spoken)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: I meet Omar, a part-time street vendor, at the sprawling market below the Algiers' Casbah. From a blanket on the sidewalk, he sells kitchen utensils and children's clothes, anything he can get his hands on. But work is irregular because the police crack down constantly on black market vendors, he says. And with no steady income, he can't afford an apartment or even a life.
OMAR: (Through Translator) I live at home with my mother and sisters. We have one room and a kitchen. I made a little space for myself out on the balcony. I can't marry or have children because I have no future. There's nothing here.
BEARDSLEY: Omar says only those lucky enough to have connections can hope for a decent job or an apartment. The government promised him a bright future when he did his military service, but they lied, he says.
Omar is not alone. Economists say a majority of young Algerians are trapped in impoverished lives that are going nowhere. Officially, youth unemployment is around 20 percent. Many say in reality, it's pushing 50 percent. Terrorism used to be the government's most pressing problem. Now, it's lack of opportunities for young people, says Nacer Mehal, Algeria's minister of communications.
Minister NACER MEHAL (Ministry of Communications, Algeria): It's not easy to build a good democracy and to open and to develop the country. We try.
BEARDSLEY: Mehal says the government is trying to help young people by creating jobs and offering microcredits targeted at young entrepreneurs. It's also building housing units across the country. The Algerian state can afford to do all this because it is enormously wealthy from the country's gas and oil reserves. But many Algerians say it's hard to justify such a rich country having so many poor people.
Mr. MUSTAPHA BOUABDULLAH: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Mustapha Bouabdullah walks up the five flights of crumbling marble stairs to his apartment. He says Algeria's political class, which he calls a gerontocracy, lives on petrodollars and has no solutions whatsoever for the country's youth.
Mr. BOUABDULLAH: (Through Translator) There is a frustration among young people in the Arab world when faced with the cultural, social and technological progress of the West. The powers that be are overwhelmed, and young people refuse all dialogue with them because they are obsolete.
BEARDSLEY: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has promised a wide range of reforms and did lift a 19-year-old emergency law earlier this year. But it's not Bouteflika who people seem to hate. It's the corrupt system behind him and a political party that has been in power since Algeria won independence from France in 1962.
(Soundbite of protest)
Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: There are small street corner protests like this every day in the Algerian capital, but they are quickly squelched by Algeria's well-equipped riot police.
Twenty-five-year-old Tariq and his friends said they want real democracy and more freedom now.
TARIQ: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: It's not just about jobs, says Tariq. We want to be able to have leisure time, to enjoy culture, to be able to travel freely, to live regular lives.
Abdelouhub Farsaoui works with Rassemblement pour les Jeunes, a group that is trying to empower young people. He says mass migration and suicide have both increased as young people have lost hope. Government ministers have always glorified Algerian youth in speeches, says Farsaoui, but they do nothing to build a future for young people.
Mr. ABDELOUHUB FARSAOUI (Rassemblement pour les Jeunes): (Through Translator) Instead of preparing them to take the reigns of power and oversee the destiny of this country, the system does everything to shut young people out and make sure they play no role in the democratic development of this country.
BEARDSLEY: And so, says Farsaoui, there is no cadre of young politicians ready to replace the aging ruling class.
(Soundbite of ocean waves)
BEARDSLEY: Meanwhile, Omar has walked out to the Algiers Beach just across from the Casbah. He looks out across the Mediterranean Sea. The lucky ones have gone to France and Spain and even America, he says. We'd all be migrants if we could.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley.
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