First Published: 2015-09-07

Young Algerians socialise at the mall
North African's country's youth are discovering something their counterparts in West embraced a generation ago: the shopping centre.
Middle East Online

Dimmed lights

ALGIERS - Young people don't have many places to socialise in conservative Algeria. But now the North African's country's youth are discovering something their counterparts in the West embraced a generation ago: the shopping centre.

And away from family pressures, against this new backdrop of massive carparks, shiny floors, benches and fountains, they are letting their hair down.

The enormous Bab Ezzouar mall, opened in 2010 in a new business district near the Algiers airport, was Algeria's first major shopping centre.

For the last five years, its cinemas, bowling alley and coffee shops have provided a venue for those seeking to escape the prying eyes of relatives and neighbours.

With its dimmed lights and thumping music, the bowling alley feels like a night club. Young men and women -- many of them without the traditional Islamic veil -- play billiards.

"I come to flirt," declares Rym, a young woman in a tight pair of jeans from the southeastern city of Constantine.

Meriem, 18, says she comes for the privacy afforded by a crowd.

"The great thing is there are lots of people, so it's unlikely that you'll bump into someone you know. Sometimes, I take my veil off and only put it back on when I leave. I'm not the only one."

In a country where three-quarters of the population is under 35, new malls are sprouting up for youths like Rym and Meriem who don't have many other places to hang out.

Attracted by Algeria's economic growth and rising income levels, investors have recently opened shopping centres in the capital, second city Oran and the northeastern city of Setif, with others planned or under construction.

- 'End of terrorism' -

"They're not just somewhere to shop but also somewhere to socialise," explains Tahar Drici, a sociologist at the University of Algiers.

At the end of the 1990s, Algerians started to emerge from a devastating decade of civil war between the army and Islamists.

"The end of terrorism has made people want to enjoy life and go out, and these centres have made it possible, as young men and women can meet there to flirt far from the disapproving gaze of relatives."

The manager of a provincial shopping centre agrees: "It's not uncommon to see youth of all ages flirting in our centres. It's the perfect place for it."

"Young women can tell their parents that they're going shopping without it sounding suspicious."

Despite signs of opening up, Algerian society remains "conservative, traditional and hierarchical", says Drici, the sociologist.

Couples embracing or holding hands in the capital's streets or on public transport are a rare sight -- even if this was fairly common before Islamism swept over Algeria in the late 1980s.

In the malls, "the signs are mostly Western and sell a lifestyle and fashion different from Algerian society's traditional values," Drici says.

But youths are not the only visitors of these new temples of consumption.

Clients of all ages flock to the malls, where families can share a pizza while watching their children run around a playing area.

Up to 7.6 million people have visited the capital's Bab Ezzouar centre since it opened, equivalent to an average of 21,000 customers per day, says Alain Rolland, the Swiss director of the Company of Algerian Shopping Centres that owns it.

Barely six kilometres (four miles) away, in the Algiers Bay, many gather on the terrace of the Ardis commercial centre to admire the sun set over the water.

The mall overlooks the Sablettes, a beach celebrated by Algerian-born French writer Albert Camus that was recently cleaned up after years of neglect.

As in many other emerging economies, enthusiasm for these shopping centres does not seem set to dwindle any time soon.

Investors are already planning to open a new mall -- complete with skating rink, cinemas and theme park -- in Baraki, a southern neighbourhood of Algiers that just two decades ago was overrun by Islamist armed groups.

 

UN Security Council lenient to Turkey’s Syria offensive

Washington probes Hezbollah ‘narcoterrorism’

Tillerson to present US strategy on Syria to European, Arab allies

Russia pension funds may invest in Aramco IPO

Iranian woman skydiver looks to break down stereotypes

Palestinians in occupied West Bank get 3G

Turkish army clashes with Kurdish militia amid US alarm

Turkey arrests dozens accused of ‘terror propaganda’

Three French female jihadists face possible death penalty in Iraq

Women journalists protest separation during Pence visit to Jerusalem

Egypt military accuses presidential hopeful of committing crimes

Israeli minister calls to ban author praising Palestinian teen

Qatar supports Turkey’s offensive against Kurds

World powers meet on Syria chemical attacks

Morocco's king appoints five new ministers

Pence pledges US embassy move by end of 2019 on Jerusalem trip

Russia calls for diplomatic solution to Yemen conflict

Russia invites Kurds to join Syria peace process

Turkey shells Kurdish targets in northern Syria

Closer look at pro-Ankara rebels amassing around Afrin

Pence set for Palestinian snub

Abbas to ask EU to recognise Palestinian state

Saudi-led coalition to give $1.5 bln in Yemen aid

Mattis: Turkey gave US advance warning on Syria operation

Yemen releases budget for first time in three years

Saudi calls for cooperation between OPEC, non-OPEC countries

France presses Turkey to end offensive against Kurds

The changing faces of al-Qaeda in Syria

Kurdish militia fire rockets at Turkish town

Moroccans wary depreciation of dirham could raise cost of living, despite benefits

Deserted streets, terrified civilians after Turkey attacks Afrin

Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute

Russia-led Syria peace congress to be held January 30

Turkey launches new strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria

Egypt's Sisi says will stand for re-election

Pence heads to Mideast despite Muslim, Christian anger

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination

Journalists arrested while reporting Sudan protests

Aid for millions of Palestinians hostage to politics

Lebanon thwarts holiday attacks using IS informant

Mortar fire wounds 14 in Syria mental hospital

Turkish military fires on Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin

More than 32,000 Yemenis displaced in intensified fighting

UN warns of "lost generation" in South Sudan's grinding conflict

Saudi's refined oil exports offset crude curbs