Mass demonstrations are once again taking place in Algeria, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of protesters taking to the streets. The protesters who overthrew President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April now oppose the presidential election scheduled for 12 December, calling it a masquerade. Protesters come out regularly every Friday, the main slogan being “a civil, not a military state”.
Reasons for demonstrations
Anti-state demonstrations in Algeria began in February 2019 after Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his candidacy for a fifth term. Bouteflika is an elderly man nd has not even appeared in public in recent years because of illness. Many young people have never even seen the president in their entire lives.
As a result of the violent protests nicknamed the “smile revolution,” or Hirak (“movement”), in April, Bouteflika refused to run for office again, also losing his support from the military.
Despite Bouteflika’s resignation, the protests continued. They protest against all people associated with Bouteflika – interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, Prime Minister Noureddine Bedouin and former head of the Constitutional Council Tayeb Belaiz.
People are protesting against the elections in the context of the ongoing political dispensation. The main slogan is yetnahaw gaa – “they all have to leave” (all of them – that is, the political and military elite). They claim that all the candidates for the election are the same people who appeared under the Bouteflika regime.
Protests, as protesters explain, are not only about postponing elections or confrontation with the military, but also against the “deep state” in general.
The country is now de facto run by the Algerian Army Chief of Staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah. He is insisting on elections, saying it can help to restore order. Salah turned his back on Bouteflika, who had decided to run for a fifth term, and since then has visually campaigned against the former president’s clan, calling it a gang.
Of course, they are also protesting against objective economic problems, given that Algeria depends on energy exports, but has not diversified its economy in recent years. https://www.theafricareport.com/20653/algerias-gas-industry-under-pressure-from-russia-and-us/
Protesters explain that the figure of the elected president will not be important, because in fact Salah and his people will be rulers in the shadow. That is, the president may be legitimate for the system, but not for the people.
It is important to note that not all Algerians share this position. The military authorities today also have support from those who are tired of the unrest. Tens of thousands of people also attend counter marches.
They were standing with banners “Vote for Algeria” and “We are united forever”, “The people and the army are brothers”, and “We are with Gaid” (meaning Salah).
Some Algerians believe that these elections are the only way to end the crisis. Supporters of this position note that the protests were appropriate earlier, but now that the official election date has been set, the protests are transforming into anarchy.
Although protesters say that they will only rely on peaceful demonstrations to confront the military and political establishment, the situation may deteriorate after the elections.
Presidential elections – to be or not to be?
The presidential election in Algeria has already been postponed twice – this time, despite the protests and understanding all the risks, the authorities are likely to hold a vote.
Many media outlets, however, found the debate to have failed and turned out to be uninteresting. According to Bloomberg, the candidates wanted to talk about themselves rather than really debate the issues.
Despite the country’s financial difficulties, the authorities promise to create new administrative units, expand subway lines and provide citizens with the opportunity to directly import used cars. Is this realistic in the current circumstances? Many are skeptical about these proposals.
To date, five candidates are competing for the presidency. Two former prime ministers, Abdelmajid Tebbun and Ali Benflis, former Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi, former Minister of Tourism Abdelkader Bengrina and Abdelaziz Belaid, who supported Bouteflika. Until they are elected, the military rules.
The military, in particular, began a purge in which former Prime Ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, as well as several ministers and businessmen, were already imprisoned. And in September, a military tribunal sentenced four people, including the brother of former President Said Bouteflika, to 15 years in prison for conspiracy against the army. Salah recalls, however, that it was the army that played a key role in gaining independence from France and ending the uprising in the 1990s.
The protesters want to separate the army and presidents and make the government civilian. The conflict between the army and the street is growing, a dangerous trend.
An additional point of tension are the Berbers
Not only economic but also ethnic problems remain unresolved. The Berber issue has been a sensitive issue in Algeria for several decades.
The Amazigh people were the indigenous population of North Africa, 75 per cent of whom were of Berber origin. For many years, they had fought to preserve their identity, the so-called Berber Spring of the Berbers had been at the centre of the resistance that had been waged against the military over the past four decades.
In connection with recent events, the Berber movement was accused as separatist and planning to disrupt the elections. In mid-June, Salah banned protesters from publicly waving the Berber flag in Algeria; in protest, many protesters began to specifically display attributes and even wear traditional Berber costumes. For this, many were detained with the wording “harming the integrity” of the country.
Although the Amazigh people and culture are an undeniable part of Algeria’s history and national identity, tensions between the Berbers and the Arabs have been exploited by both French colonial forces and politicians (inside and outside Algeria) since independence in 1962.
After 132 years of French colonization, the Arab ruling party of Algeria tried to pursue an active policy of Arabization, making the Arabic language the national language – in education, administration, civil service, etc. Berbers did not like this approach – according to their assessment, the policy did not take into account the diversity of cultures and peoples in Algeria.
It is worth mentioning that despite the difficult situation, Bouteflika made some concessions to smooth the conflict – for example, he ordered the official celebration of the Amazigh holidays and the recognition of the unique culture. The Supreme Islamic Council of Algeria, considered to be the country’s supreme religious authority, has caused national controversy over its proposal – inscribe the Berber languages in Arabic letters.
“Amazigh tribes, which pushed for their languages’ recognition as official, voiced their strong objection to their dialects being written in Arabic letters, saying they wish for Latin inscriptions to substitute the original Tifinagh letters.” – https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1549731/algeria-arab-amazigh-dispute-over-using-arabic-alphabet-berber-languages
According to the authorities, some Berbers are actively involved in separatist movements calling for the independence of the tribal regions, and are now actively protesting against the elections. However, this is the cause of the reaction from the authorities toward the Berber flag – not because hatred of the Berber people, but because of the fear of separatism and destabilization of the regime.
The protesters themselves claim that they are not separatists and flags are not a call to division.
It can be stated that there is no disagreement between the protesters – Arabs and Berbers – as the aim is to change the political system. However, the conflict between the authorities and the Berbers is only worsening against the background of what is already happening.
The hallmark of the Hirak movement, which rebelled against Bouteflika in February, is that it has no centralized leadership. In this respect, the protests resemble the Yellow Vests movement. However, not everything is so sweet: unlike French workers, who are demonized by all mainstream media, any unrest in Algeria is encouraged by Western human rights activists.
Suspiciously active are the globalist organizations that are always involved in information wars in different countries on the eve of (and during) color revolutions. For example, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Silent since August, the American ambassador to Algeria was suddenly activated, when he congratulated Algerians on the anniversary of the revolution
— Ambassador Desrocher (@USAmbtoAlgeria) November 1, 2019
Even if the people have reasons to protest, and even if the conflict with the Berbers has been real for many years, Western forces use internal issues in their own interests. In fact, it is in many ways they who, with information and educational support, turn real protests into anarchy and separatism.
If the Algerians want a revolution, it should be organic, not pro-American. Algeria may well have a new president after Thursday night – but the next day the streets may be filled with protesters. After all, the internal issues have not yet been resolved.