Algerian Civil Protests

Photo Source: The Economist

By Naveed Qazi | Editor Globe UpFront


Algeria has begun to explode in anarchy, to the extent that it’s on the verge of an Arab Spring movement. The North African country is witnessing a flurry of massive protests across Algiers.

The people are demanding an end to current President’s rule, AbdelAziz Boutefilka, after his campaign manager filed his nomination papers, to rerun for the president.

The country witnessed its largest rally, on March 1st, when tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets. The angry protestors were been huddling the boulevards in the country’s capital. One of the placards, during the protests, sarcastically remarked: “Respect the dead. Bury him, don’t elect him.” The police have even fired tear gas near the presidential office.

They have even rejected Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui’s technocratic offer, to include young Algerians in the parliamentary process, who constitute more than 70% of the total Algerian population. Several Algerian youths believe that they would not have made graffitis on the walls if they were happy with the system. For them, Bouteflika symbolises gerontocracy. In fact, article 102 gives the discretion to impeach the president.

The protests, until now, has received support from the civil society, including judges, teachers and the veterans of the independence struggle. These mass protests actually sparked off, when in central Algiers, on February 24th, a recently instituted Mouwatana (‘Citizens Democracy’), called for some action. They have also expressed resentment over the recent trend of mass migrations to Europe by many Algerians. The families of disappeared migrants have marched as well, and have called the harragas (migrants), as martyrs.

According to The Guardian: “Despite a heavy police presence, crowds gathered at Algiers’ Grande Poste square hours before the scheduled start of a demonstration calling on Bouteflika to step down after two decades in power.”

It has been a while back in 2013, since the 83-year-old Abdel Aziz Boutefilka, using a wheelchair, was shifted to a Swiss hospital, and since then, he has not been actively involved in the politics of the country. He can hardly talk or even walk. In fact, he doesn’t even remember his fourth term, due to a gradual memory loss.

As per The Economist: “the president has been seen on the television, looking confused, while his close aides fawn over him. Algeria is in desperate need of renewal. But the ruling clique of generals, businessmen and politicians have proved incapable of reform, unable even to pick a successor to the cadaverous Mr Bouteflika. It is time it handed power to a new generation, which might unlock Algeria’s vast potential.”

Since many years, Algeria has been ruled by a secretive cabal known as “le pouvier”, from where the people in power are believed to have minted money, and dictated their politics. While the cabal calls itself stable and generous to people, its critics call these men with power, as instruments of stagnation. These critics want the power to be handed over to the next generation from these so-called ‘authoritarians’, who mostly have channelled their wealth through various state-funded projects.

However, the cabal argues that they know the pulse of the country and that it was due to Boutefilka’s leadership, that the country didn’t see any unrest, during the 2011 Arab Spring. It had largely avoided any unrest in the country, by giving low-interest loans and housing to common people.

But, as the country’s budget relies largely on oil, the cabal also believes that they can no longer keep many people happy on subsidies and secure government jobs. It is because the unemployment has spiked to 11%, many of the youth are largely jobless, and there has been an increase in corruption and red tape. Gone are the days of the 1990s when the GDP in the country was high. The global decline of oil, in the recent past, has also added to Algeria’s economic woes.

As per data compiled by The Economist, the debt now equals to country’s 9% GDP. The foreign reserves have shrunk by 55%, since 2013.

Having said that, the powerful Senate in Algeria discourages any form of dissent against these leaders, muzzles the press, and often locks up journalists and other people, for any criticism and harassment drawn against them. To be more precise, the stature of Boutefilka is such amongst the cabal, that he is likened to El Cid, an 11th-century Spanish nobleman, whose dead body was supposedly put on a horse, and sent back to war, to inspire the remaining troops engaged in a battle.

Algeria had its last free and fair election in 1991. After that, the army generals cancelled the rest. This had also led to a civil war, in the 1990s, called the ‘black decade’ that killed over 200,000 people.

General Ahmad Gaid Shah believes that there are various existing political quarters, which want to bring the chaos of the past back into Algeria. All this division represents a dismal scenario. Currently, the common Algerians, hate the populism of the cabal. Most of the Algerians think of Boutefilka as an ailing, broken down man, and look down upon him with scorn. Although his party, National Liberation Front (FLN), fought the war with the French, the people have no memories of French colonialism in their country anymore.

In the upcoming election, the opposition bloc does not want to participate. Ali Benflis, the former presidential candidate, who just got 12% of the votes, does not intend to run for the office. The independents have been blocked.

As per several regional analysts in Algeria, a retired army general, Ali Ghadiri will most likely run for the office. But, there is also an auto mechanic, cousin of a French Algerian businessman named Rachid Nekkaz, who unsuccessfully ran an election in 2007.

According to reports by Reuters, talks might be held under UN diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi, to ease the already chaotic situation. It might decide on the country’s new constitution and set the date for new elections.




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