Mauritania has had growing success shutting down Islamic terrorist operations in the desert area near the Algerian border. Last month, seven al Qaeda members were arrested, after being detected and tracked by border police. Before that, police found several weapons and bomb materials caches in the desert. Algerian Islamic terrorists have been driven away from population centers, but setting up bases across the border has not worked out too well either.
The government is trying to interest foreign firms in mining 29,000 tons of uranium that surveys have discovered in the desert south. This would provide enough nuclear fuel to produce 1,000 megawatts a year for 120 years. The government would also like to build two or more nuclear power plants in the next decade, but this is very expensive, and money remains tight. Exports, mainly because of lower oil prices, are down 50 percent this year, compared to last year. Thus the nation can just about cover current expenses.
Tensions with Chinese, brought in to work on development projects financed by China, are rising. In the last eight years, trade to (and from) China has increased from $300 million a year, to nearly $5 billion. There are now over 50,000 Chinese in Algeria. Mostly men, few are Moslems, and they like to have a beer and lounge around in shorts after work. This offends conservative Algerians. Many of the Chinese open retail and wholesale businesses, which tend to be more competitive than Algerian ones. This offends Algerian businessmen, and Algerians in general, who see Chinese with jobs, while over 20 percent of Algerians are unemployed. Algeria likes the business with China, and the efficiency with which the Chinese get things done. But the side effects are causing resentment, and growing violence.
In a situation typical of the Arab world, the government has defeated Islamic radicals, who sought to take over the country. But the government corruption and mismanagement that gave the Islamic radicals some popular support in the first place, is still there. Just waiting for some organization to mobilize it and make another run at toppling the government. The problem is, that results in a new ruling class, which quickly becomes as oppressive and inept as the last one. Breaking the cycle with honest elections and officials is seen as a real long shot. There just isn't a lot of trust, at least not enough to create a national movement that could overthrow the current police state, and replace it with something better. If it sounds hopeless, well, so far it has been. There are reformers throughout the Arab world, trying to come up with solutions. But so far, no one has developed anything that works.
Meanwhile, the Islamic terrorists are still active, especially in their press releases. A recent one claimed that 29 attacks were made in the last few months. But less than a dozen appear to have occurred, or at least shown up in the media (which is still fairly free to report violence and natural disasters). The Islamic radicals still have supporters, especially among men under age 30 (about a third of whom are unemployed). But if these guys had jobs, the Islamic terrorists would have a smaller recruiting base. The government can't handle the economy well, and the jobs are not there. This is a common problem in all Arab countries, even those with great oil wealth.
October 4, 2009: Security forces killed another eight Islamic terrorists over the weekend.