What has become known as the "Jasmine Revolution" - the ousting of Tunisia's autocratic president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who ruled the country for 23 years - is sending shockwaves through the Arab world. The coterie of despotic, kleptocratic rulers across the Middle East have watched in disbelief as one of their own has been forced from power by a groundswell of popular protest that has appeared seemingly out of nowhere.
What started as a youthful outburst of frustration at lack of jobs and opportunity following the self-immolation of a young university graduate unable to find work, quickly turned into wholesale popular fury at decades of stagnation and government corruption. After two weeks of violent street protests and looting, the president fled the country and the ruling party relinquished power.
Neighbouring Algeria is facing many of the same problems. Plagued by around 50% unemployment among 18 to 30 year olds and the traumatic legacy of a decade-long civil war in the 1990s, it has seen a wave of protests and self-immolations inspired by events in Tunisia. The grievances of these protesters are much the same – lack of opportunity, corruption, autocratic government, lack of freedom of speech and poverty.
As in other parts of Africa, young Algerians see opportunity and a way out of their predicament just across the water – in France, Spain and other parts of Europe. These people are popularly known as Harraga, "those who burn" (their papers), since most burn their identity papers before setting off on rickety craft across the sea. This way, if they are caught in transit or after they disembark, they will not be able to be repatriated.
These are the "lucky" ones. For those who are left behind, there often seems little hope of their situation improving. Drug addiction and alcoholism are rife and crime is often the only way to survive.
As protests spread across the Middle East and North Africa, the region's rulers await further developments with trepidation.