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.

 

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Rare moments of joy at Arabs’ unprecedented World Cup qualifications

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments

Russia again vetoes renewal of Syria gas attacks probe

UN weighs bid to save Syria gas attacks probe

IS attack kills 26 displaced people in Syria

Saudi FM says Lebanon 'held hostage by Hezbollah'

Egypt to open Rafah crossing for 3 days

Turkish troops pulled from NATO drill amid new tensions

Six children among civilians killed in shelling of Eastern Ghouta

US official calls on Sudan to stop 'church demolitions'

Hariri set to leave Saudi Arabia for France

Fears of bombs, IS cells still haunt Mosul

Iraq retakes Rawa, last town held by IS

Riyadh striking deals with people detained in anti-graft purge

Iran criticises French Mideast policy

Russia again blocks UN resolution on Syria action

Israel military chief says ready to cooperate with Saudi Arabia

Egypt confirms death of wanted jihadist

UK denies link between citizen detained in Iran and £400m debt