Student rallies and other protests are being held in Algeria against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plans to run for a fifth term in office. The protests have been one of the nation’s largest displays of public dissent since its war of independence from France in 1962, which had over 100,000 people taking to the streets on a Friday. The 82-year old president has until midnight on Sunday local time to register for the elections that takes place in April, and people have ardently been demanding that he withdraw his name.
Omar Ashour, a professor of security studies and Middle East politics at the Doha Institute in Qatar, has described the current protests to be at a “different level” than that of the protests following the president’s previous decision to seek re-election back in 2014. He stated, “At the time, we saw tens to hundreds of protesters. Now we are seeing hundreds of thousands of protesters. So in terms of intensity, scale, geographic location, and numbers, we are talking about a very different level.” Indeed, riot police have been using tear gas and batons to keep some of the protesters from marching on the Government Palace, which houses the prime minister’s office, as reported by AFP news agency, and state media has also revealed that nearly 200 protesters and 56 police officers have been injured already, with one individual dying of a heart attack.
The president, who had first been elected in 1999, has rarely been seen in public after suffering from a stroke in 2013, and has yet to address the nation in years. As a result of the stroke, he has largely been incapacitated, and has left the country’s reins in the hands of a military and civilian elite. Critics believe that his ill health suggest that he is unable to perform his duties as president, and by declaring his candidacy for next month’s election, is refusing to relinquish his grip on power despite the fact. Young protesters have also been mobilized by calls on social media, many of whom are struggling for employment in a country where half the population is under 30.
Officials have warned that the protests risk throwing the country into instability, with the prime minister comparing the rallies with those that sparked Syria’s war. However, peaceful protests are a way for those who are marginalized in the society, or do not have a chance to express their views elsewhere — in this case, the young people of the country — to voice their opinions on political choices which will have a big impact on their future. Although the president is credited with ending a decade-long civil war back in the 90s where tens of thousands were killed, the current struggling economy has failed to provide the opportunities demanded by a youthful population, which has fuelled resentment in a nation where protests are usually heavily restricted.
Despite the growing dissatisfaction amongst the public, the president is still widely favoured to win this year’s election, as he had won the last election of 2014 without any personal campaigning.
Reporters at state radio have complained that their employers have ceased coverage of the protesters, as journalists have also taken to the streets in order to protest against censorship. It is important that people are allowed to display their views in a peaceful way, as the current government is failing to take their needs into account while looking to censor them.