Located in the center of Algeria, the Hassi Messaoud oil field, which was discovered in 1956, is the most ancient oil station in the country. It was developed and is currently operated by the Algerian state-owned company Sonatrach and is also the largest oil field in Algeria. The presence of Sonatrach and the oil production activity has been related to different protests over the years.
In July 2001, after a prayer incited men to commit violence against the single women working for the petroleum companies in the area, a mob of around 300 men carried out an attack on women in the bidonville of El-Haicha. During the attack that took place during the night of 13 July, 40 women were beaten, raped, mutilated and attacked in different ways. Many of their homes were burnt or looted. More attacks took place over the course of the following week. After police had finally put an end to the attack, reports about the number of arrests varied between 9 and 40 of the identified perpetrators. After almost 40 women decided to file charges, three men were sentenced to prison terms, six were acquitted and the large majority, 25 of the attackers were sentenced in absentia.
Ten years after the attacks, local NGOs relaunched their campaign urging Algeria to ensure the protection of women in Hassi Messaoud, saying that the situation remained intolerable in terms of law and that a large part of the crimes still go unpunished. In 2014, protests emerged in Hassi Messaoud again, this time mainly involving unemployed young men pushing for employment by Sonatrach. In 2011, youth movements had already occupied town hall offices protesting poverty and oppression. This time, the protests emerged with a group of people blocking the roads leading to the Hassi Messaoud oil field. During the protests, two people were killed and 20 were hurt in clashed with the police. Dozens of young people occupied the Sonatrach office in the city, demanding for work. Hunger strikes were also staged in front of the ENSP, the Algerian National Enterprise for Oil Well Servicing.
In 2012, in an effort to improve living conditions, the City of Hassi Messaoud started planning for the implementation of what has been called the “New City of Hassi-Messaoud”, which will be located around 80 km away from the today's Hassi Messaoud. The project is scheduled to finish in 2020, will be able to accommodate 80,000 people and is a joint project between Algeria and Korea.
All this apart, this conflict is related to the gas fracking conflict in Algeria in 2014-15. The Sonatrach company declares that it masters the technique of fracking employed in Hassi Messaoud, to the north-east of Ain Salah (where the gas fracking conflict has taken place). Fracking was used for tight oil, with fifty wells per year in Hassi Messaoud from 2006 to 2010.