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Nur ar-Ramadan

Algeria Food Packages for the Poor

By Dr. Omima Ahmed, IOL Correspondent


The Algerian Red Crescent and state-run solidarity committees have intensified their humanitarian efforts with the start of Ramadan, distributing food packages among the poor in the north African country.

The intensive effort continued for the fifth day Tuesday, October 19, as the holy month started in Algeria on Friday, October 15, as was the case with most Arab states this year.

Unlike as in previous years, the Algerian government has allocated around 1.5 million food packages to be handed out among the poor in the Arab Maghreb country during the dawn-to-dusk fasting month.

The packages, containing the main basic food stuffs such as rice, sugar, milk, oil, meat, vegetables, and fruits, are distributed among the poor by the Islamic Algerian scouting teams.

According to the estimates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2003, 57 percent of Algerians are considered poor, but the local opposition put the percentage at 70 percent, of which some 12 million have a daily income of one dollar or less.

“Mercy Restaurants”

In a parallel line with such efforts, the Algerian government has also earmarked 150 million dollars to open 500 “mercy restaurants” in the Arab country, said the Algerian national solidarity minister Djamel Ould Abbes.

The restaurants would serve hot meals for the passers-by and the homeless during the holy fasting month, he added.

Three years ago, the Algerian authorities banned political parties and Islamic societies from practicing any charitable work, alleging the aim was to prevent such activities from being used for political ends.

The government limited such charitable and humanitarian activities to the Red Crescent and Ministry of National Solidarity.

The Islamic charity under Sheikh Shamsul Din Kharroubi was one of the humanitarian organizations to offer aid to the poor, gaining popularity among Algerians, especially in heavily populated middle-class neighborhoods.  

But when Kharroubi started to appear in political gatherings and give account on political affairs, the Algerian authorities moved to ban activities of the Islamic charity and only allowed Algerian official bodies to undertake the humanitarian work in the country.

Analysts saw the steps taken by the Algerian government as an attempt to stop the recurring of “mercy markets” held by the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front in 1990, 1991.

The ISF used to sell food stuff at low prices, gaining a heavy popularity among the Algerian public.

The ISF won the first round of the Algerian legislative elections in 1991, but the army cancelled the elections, disbanded the front, and arrested its members, dragging the whole country into a bloody episode of violence.

Some 150,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since then.