Algeria Protests: The Youth is Fed Up


    Algeria is witnessing the largest protests the country has seen in 20 years, with reports of as many as 100,000 Algerians taking to the streets of the capital at its peak. These protests were sparked by Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term. Bouteflika experienced significant opposition and protests during the 2011 uprisings that swept the Arab world, in which the Algerian uprising was sparked by unemployment and food prices. Then, he managed to calm the protesters by lifting a 19-year-old state of emergency he had justified as a necessity to thwart terrorism and by social spending. This time around, however, he might have to give in to the demands and allow the people to elect their leader freely.

    What’s Different in Algeria Protests?

    Whilst Algeria’s protests tend to mobilise the politically active, they have also mobilised the youth assumed to be depoliticised. The movement seems to be focused on Bouteflika himself rather than his politics.

    Bouteflika assumed power in 1999. At the time, the constitution limited any sitting president to two terms. In 2008, Bouteflika changed the constitution, removed limitations, and continued his reign. Meanwhile, the Algerian people had no say in the constitutional change. In 2016, again without consulting the people, he changed the constitution and reinstated the limitation to presidential terms. Now, he first bid for a fifth term, clearly violating the constitution regarding the very limitation he set himself. As protests gained momentum, he declared he would only stay for one year if re-elected. And lastly, he revoked his bid for the presidency yet stated that the elections would be postponed. To the people, this indicates that Bouteflika considers himself above the law.

    Algeria’s electoral law demands a medical certificate to ensure the prospective leaders are fit to be their commander-in-chief. In 2013, Bouteflika had a stroke. The incident left him in a wheelchair and severely impacted his ability to speak. Since the stroke, he has barely been seen in public. In the 2014 elections, Bouteflika did no campaigning and no public speeches, yet won the election by a vast majority of the votes. The integrity of the election was questioned due to his lack of campaigning and questionable ability to rule, rooted in his medical issues.

    Bouteflikas Health

    Today, Bouteflika has just turned 82, paralyzed by a stroke, just received treatment for weeks in Switzerland, and has not spoken publicly in seven years. Effectively, he considers himself above the law due to the impossibility that he has passed the medical requirement, which is supposed to ensure his ability to do the job.

    His deteriorating health and opaqueness have also led to speculation that someone in his clique has been making decisions on his behalf. In 2015, the Algerian security apparatus was purged, the jailing of army generals, change in the intelligence hierarchy, and laws preventing journalists and others from voicing opinions against the regime. The sudden change made it clear that the political and military establishments were divided, which in turn made people wonder who makes the decisions – An old, sick man in a wheelchair or the people around him?

    That same question arises now—will it be Bouteflika or his clique that makes decisions? Others fear a soft coup has consolidated power within the family. Leading protesters to emphasise that their country is a republic, not a kingdom. Will elections be held? Or will the power be transitioned to someone from the inner circle without holding elections? It remains a secret.

    The Bottom Line

    Before his rule, the regime was able to maintain stability with the help of economic prosperity. This came from skyrocketing oil prices. It also came from the claim that chaos and war were the only alternatives to its rule. None of these are effective anymore. The youth protesting is largely depoliticised as assumed. Nonetheless, they are not demonstrating against policies or parties but against Bouteflika for national identity. They do not want an old, sick, and incapable man to rule their country. Neither do they wish his family, clique, or establishment to make decisions. They want an end to the gerontocracy, a president they can believe in, and a president to make decisions. The public will not be satisfied until elections have been held and the people have chosen a leader. Algeria is heading for a regime change because the new generation says so.

    Fredrik Hellem
    Fredrik Hellem
    Served in the Norwegian Military Intelligence Batallion. Former student at Aberystwyth University and St Petersburg State University, currently studying MA Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University London.

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