Generational Twists And Turns In Algeria’s Determination To Seek Democratic Reform

Thousands of protestors continue to flock to the Algerian capital, Algiers, since February of this year. This comes after President Abdelaziz announced he is seeking a fifth term. Collectively known as the ‘Smile Revolution’, the protestors are demanding democratic transitions in an Algerian political arena comprised of a concentrated elite in power since the nation’s war of independence from France in 1962. The protestors remain adamant in continuing to sweep the city, despite Abdelaziz responding by dropping a re-election bid in April of this year.

Like most nations, Algeria’s current political climate can trace its roots to an eventful history, namely the civil war, which gripped much of the nation during the 1990s. The bloody war witnessed 200,000 deaths, providing ample reason for the survivors to rightfully seek a discourse of stability into the 21st-century. Sheikh Yahya, one of the fighters, expressed his gratitude for the current peace, articulating stability as a “gift from God, which should be preserved”, echoing national sentiments: never again, with the recent protests—in which hundreds have been arrested—acting as a reminder of the bloodshed.

Despite all rational and understandable reasons to seek a stable environment absent of any risk of conflict in the decades following a pivotal civil war, Algerian protestors are right to courageously push for democracy. Protestors have continuously highlighted the core issues of state power, undemocratic practices and corruption as reasonable grounds to protest, issues important to the Algerian polity; after all, a 1990s coup against the Islamic Salvation Front—which appeared to be winning the elections—sparked the civil war. Specifically, primary concerns include the exploitation of state monopoly on natural resources to finance a ‘clientelist’ system—in which the state exchanges goods for political support i.e. buying institutional support.

Contrary to the sentiments of hope expressed by protestors, determined political actors exercise matched effort to pull the polity into the orbit of fear and unease, characteristic of a fear-oriented 21st-century narrative disguised as a stability-seeking chronicle. For example, Salafis—aligned with the conservative Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia—capitalize upon the fear surrounding change, to denounce and reject western democratic models—arguing any change necessitates an element of instability, and thus challenges the Islamic values of modest stability. The Salafi sect wields considerable influence—with Algeria’s mostly 18,000 mosques under Salafi influence. However, the very nature of capitalizing upon fear and denying potentially favourable reform contradicts the Islamic values Salafis claim to espouse and risks further tainting the Algerian socio-political fabric.

More hopefully, autonomous groups of the Smile Revolution advocate Ahmed Talen Ibrahim—son of a well-known cleric, Bachir (who played an instrumental role in the war of independence against France in the 8 years up to 1962) to take control of the nation’s highest office. Ibrahim, aged 87, is a commendable ambassador of a ‘clean politics’, infusing transparent youth-cantered politics. Least to say, a decades-old civil war has left its mark on the Algerian psyche. The question is, however, what will it take for the nation to depart from the clutching paramount of stability and confide in democratic change and hope, values young Algerians are so eager to adopt?