Algeria: 25th Friday Of Demonstrations

Friday, August 9th, marks the twenty-fifth week of civilian protests in the country. The protest movement eventually led to the resignation of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika on April 2 and currently calls for the departure of all former members of his inner circle before the organization of an election. On April 9, Abdelkader Bensalah was officially named Algeria’s interim Head of State by the two houses of Parliament. He was to lead the country until the holding of a new election. On July 9th, his legal mandate as President of the Republic expired. According to the Constitution, it was to last no more than 90 days. 

However, elections were not held due to a lack of support from the population, and a political class refusing to compete with yet another symbol of Bouteflikism. This constitutional vacuity was widely anticipated as early as at the very beginning of June, following an authorization enacted by the Constitutional Council. The latter stated that, according to Article 102 of the Constitution, Bensalah was to organize new elections and to stay in office until he does so. Needless to say, his party, intends to win these. 

Abdelaziz Bouteflika served as President of Algeria between 1999 and 2019. Prior to his presidency, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1963 until 1979, as well as President of the United Nations General Assembly for a one-year-term in 1974. With nearly twenty years in power, that is, the equivalent of four mandates, Bouteflika was the longest-serving Head of State of Algeria. Sparking national outrage, a press release signed by Bouteflika on February 10th, 2019 crystallized his desire to run for a fifth mandate. In the eyes of most Algerians, Bouteflika in power rhymed with inaction, economic downturn, coupled with a hint of corruption and nepotism. Since then, civilians have taken to the streets every Friday, marching through central Algiers up to the Central Poste, a national emblem of the city, known as ‘La Blanche.’ The landmark also saw a giant poster of Bouteflika ripped off its walls by population in profound despair. Every Tuesday, students do the very same⁠—revolt against what they deem to be nothing but a rotten system.

One of the many controversies lies in the belief held by many that Bensalah’s legitimacy is dubious. His supposed involvement in Bouteflika’s resignation explicates just that. Speculations hold that Bensalah would have somehow contributed to overthrowing the former president. Ahmed Gaïd Salah, the army chief of staff, former Defence Minister and prime figure, shared his political analysis in a 25-minute long video last Friday. YouTube was shut down across Algeria that very same day. He calls for a peaceful dialogue between the military and civilians. This is meant to be the ethos of the Forum of Dialogue. So as to ignite further discussions, the body created by Karim Younes underlined the importance of the implementation of appeasement measures. Amongst these, the release of individuals arrested during demonstrations. Their demands were later refused by the military (which are in charge of implementing most decisions). Gaïd Salah qualifies the current status quo as being ‘completely upside down.’

The strong heat and holiday season of Eïd are far from stopping exponential demands for a lawful civic state. Due to such opaque political landscape, the country’s fate is increasingly hard to predict. Accountability and transparency should be at the heart of all democratic governments. It seems Algeria has missed just that.

Anne-Sophie Neyra