One, Two, Three, Viva L’Algérie!

Head of Program, Libya

4/30/2019

Throughout the week of April 23, I have been attentively following the news to know what would be the impact of this Friday’s hirak (Arabic for protests or mass rallies) in Algeria.  The tenth consecutive Friday of protests that began on  February 22 is  a reaction to the announcement made by an invalid president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, from a hospital in Geneva, of his intention to continue holding his position for a fifth term. In only three weeks, the hirak succeeded in postponing the April 18 elections and reshuffling the government, and, ultimately, it ended two decades of Bouteflika’s rule. Government officials then proceeded to apply Article 102 of the 2016 Constitution, setting presidential elections for July 4, 2019. Twenty-four candidates have already submitted letters of intent to run for office.

Avid for change, Algerians called for a break with the whole system, calling out endemic corruption and favoritism and demonstrating that they won’t be duped. On the seventh Friday, they demanded the departure of the “3 B” slated to lead the transition process—including Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah. The army, the most powerful institution in the country, has turned its back on the president and his entourage, pledging that the ruling elite would be prosecuted for corruption and sacking  senior officials. Political transitions often create scapegoats to calm down protests. But experience shows that political compromises do not deter the demands for justice. The Algerians protesting on the tenth Friday demanded the ousting of powerful army chief, Gaid Salah.

Since its independence in 1962, Algerians have endured 60 years of authoritarianism, struggling to build a national identity. The country descended into a conflict in the 1990s, which resulted in 200,000 victims and thousands of disappeared. Only a truth process could begin to heal these wounds. Reconciliation without truth and justice can never close the chapter. Like the citizens of the Arab Spring countries, Algerians are building a second republic that won’t turn the page until a common, fairer narrative is acknowledged, the corrupt system is dismantled, and the root causes of injustice and inequality are addressed.

The daily news feed takes me back to reality. Setting aside my optimism for a moment, I see a Libya torn between competing interests and Sudanese people protesting attempts to militarize the country and duplicate the Egyptian regime. Egypt’s recent referendum will allow current President Abdelfattah Sisi to rule until 2030, ending that country’s era of hope. But in all of this, there is a straight line from Tunisia to Egypt, to Libya, to Algeria—the undying thirst for transformative democratic change. Until the people’s grievances are addressed, there will be many more springs to come.

 


Demonstration against the 5th term of Bouteflika in Blida, Algeria, on March 10, 2019 (Fethi Hamlati; cropped image under CC 4.0)