'The People Want to Bring Down the Regime'
“Al-sha’b yureed isqaat al-nizaam.”
“The people want to bring down the regime.” The rousing chant has been heard across Algeria, where a series of protests have been held since the announcement that President Bouteflika would run for a fifth term. It was popularised in 2010 in rallying squares across the Middle East and North Africa since the first major protests against dictators in the region during the Arab Spring. Many claim the protests are independent of the series of uprisings which, successfully and unsuccessfully, attempted to topple regimes but arguably the asks of the protestors are identical to those of the Arab Spring, with parallel protagonists and antagonists.
The last week has seen the greatest number of peaceful protestors in Algeria come out in opposition to the current regime. Pundits and analysts predict the number of protestors this Friday to have reached between 12 and 20 million people. Aerial images show city centres in Algiers, Wahran, Annaba, Skikda, Tizi Ouzou crowded with chanting men, women and children. The most surprising images were that of police and anti-riot personnel coming out in solidarity with the protestors, chanting “123 viva l’algerie!”, having previously vowed ‘we will not hit our brothers’.
The protests have been ongoing since 22 February when 800,000 people took to the streets in opposition, with one fatality so far. Protests were triggered by the announcement on 10 February from the current administration that sitting president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has held the position since 1999, will run in the April elections. Since the beginning of these protests, millions of people have mobilised across Algeria’s 48 counties, and across diaspora communities in the UK, France, Canada and the US, with regular protests being held in Algeria every Friday, following communal prayers.
On the 11 March, President Bouteflika announced he would not be running in elections and postponed them to a date yet to be confirmed. This was the day after he addressed the Algerian people for the first time in six years. Despite this, protests have continued. De facto leaders of the recent mobilisations expressed clearly, from the very beginning, and have continued to do so, that these protests are not merely against the fifth term, rather they are counter the regime is stained with rampant corruption at every level.
Officially, the country is a ‘controlled democracy’, but those familiar with its inner-workings recognise Algeria as a military dictatorship, with top general Gayed Saleh, the Chief of staff and Deputy Defence Minister (the head being Bouteflika),making the real practical decisions. Naturally, as a result of the corrupt nature of the government, the country is faced with a myriad of obstacles to stability and growth. Among cocaine scandals and the country being plagued with cholera last summer - a direct consequence of the neglect and mismanagement of health and other vital services in the country - Algeria’s problems range from a ruling gang making exploitative deals with foreign governments that put money in their personal pockets; an undiversified economy due to poor, or nonexistent, planning; low oil prices in global markets - a problem for a country wherein 98% of exports are accounted for through oil; disproportionately high food prices; unaffordable housing; widespread drug addiction and high unemployment.
Algerians, both within the country and those in diaspora communities, utilise Facebook as a platform through which to engage and organise politically. Leaders of the popular insurgency such as Fazil Boumala in Algeria, as well as national household names such as Mohamed Zitout and Amir DZ, both asylum seekers, in the UK and France respectively, have continued to call on the Algerian people through online interaction to put pressure on the administration. Their calls are not only to remove the current sitting president but to also uproot the whole regime.
Protestors and insurgents now patiently await the announcement of the new election dates, suspecting that the postponement was a stealthy tactic for President Bouteflika to extend his term indefinitely. Zitout, ex-diplomat-turned-political-pundit and now expert in Algerian politics, predicts news of Bouteflika’s resignation will be released soon, with a new puppet figurehead to run on behalf of the governing party, FLN. He claims the people will not settle for this concession since it does not tackle the root of the problem, that is the concentration of power in the military and the rampant corruption.