Algerians have now entered the 28th consecutive week of civil disobedience and protests against the corrupt elite government and military regime. The protests started on February 16, following the announcement by former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that he was running for a fifth consecutive term. Bouteflika, who is often credited with ending the Algerian civil war in 1999, had been in power for 20 years, in what was essentially a dictatorship maintained through the election rigging.
The protests, which occur every Friday, have been taking place in symbolic locations all over Algeria. Estimates in March by France24 counted 10 to 15 million protesters in a country of 40 million people. The protests have called for more civil disobedience in the midst of an ongoing political crisis that involves both the government and the army. Protesters of all backgrounds have joined, ranging from students to older activists that were involved in the war of independence against France in the 1960s, like the famous activist Jamila Bouhired. Demonstrations have also been taking place around the globe, usually at Algerian consulates and embassies. In Montreal, demonstrations have been held since February, first at the Algerian Consulate on Saint-Urbain, and now at Place du Canada every Sunday.
After facing popular backlash when he filed as a candidate in early March, Bouteflika was forced to resign on April 9. The political elite, along with the Parliament, used Article 102 of the Algerian constitution, which allows for the removal of the President in case of the total inability to perform his duties due to a serious and lasting illness, to justify his resignation. This political move was clearly an attempt to save face for the government, who chose to sacrifice a few members of government to maintain legitimacy in a future election, rather than giving in to the people’s demand for an actual democracy.
The Algerian popular revolt, denounces the rigged and unfair election systems, and opposes another election until the government had been purged of the corrupt elite.
The Algerian political landscape is dominated by coalitions between politicians, major business actors, and the army, who form an opaque and corrupt power structure which has been in place for decades. Following Bouteflika’s resignation, and in accordance with the Algerian constitution, Abdelkader Bensalah, President of the Council of the Nation (Upper House), was named Interim President by the Parliament, despite being a known ally of the ousted former President. The Algerian constitution stipulates that an interim president can stay in power for up to 90 days, after which a new election must be organized. However, the Algerian popular revolt, also known as the Hirak movement, denounces the rigged and unfair election systems, and opposes another election until the government had been purged of the corrupt elite. On July 9, Bensalah announced he would remain as acting head of state.
Despite Bensalah’s nomination, the real leader of the corrupt Algerian system is General Gaid Salah. He is Algeria’s Vice Minister of Defense, and essentially acts as the head of the army. Over recent months, he has been conducting what has been called a “corruption purge” by the Western imperialist media. In practice, this means the incarceration of some of Algeria’s top officials, who also often happen to be his political rivals. This move is also motivated by the need to maintain some legitimacy in regards to the protesters, despite his involvement in the corrupt regime. Protesters have called for his deposition, and “Gaid Salah is with the traitors” has become a popular slogan during the Friday protests.
The Hirak movement has been largely organized through social media, specifically Facebook and YouTube. Rising stars amongst Algerian youth include Anes Tina and Raja Mezane, two YouTubers who produce content denouncing the corruption of the crony Algerian government. The military and the government are well aware of the influence the internet has had over protesters, and have already cut access to the internet twice since the beginning of the movement. The most recent occurrence happened on August 8, as a former member of the army called for the resignation of Salah, only for YouTube to be shut down by the state-run internet provider Algeria Telecom.
The military and the government are well aware of the influence the internet has had over protesters, and have already cut access to the internet twice since the beginning of the movement.
The demands of the people have evolved over months of protests. They have been laid out in an international statement of solidarity issued by Algerian Revolt, a group that reports on the Hirak movement on social media; protesters call “for an immediate end to military rule and the establishment of a civilian state; for the release of all political prisoners; to oppose and condemn repression and all forms of state violence.” Many political prisoners have been arrested, most of them for carrying flags of ethnic minorities within Algeria, including that of the Berber people. The Hirak movement has called for their immediate release as a condition for negotiation. The choice to use nonviolent protest and civil disobedience has largely been influenced by the recent memory of the civil war, which took place in Algeria between 1991 and 2002. While the protesters have stuck to this peaceful approach, the military’s response has included the use of tear gas and water cannons to disperse people.
The people also call “to oppose and condemn the provision of military, financial, diplomatic, and any other forms of assistance and intervention from imperialist governments and to oppose all concessions and contracts with foreign governments and multinational corporations until a legitimate and representative government is in place.” While Algeria officially gained independence in 1962, France’s imperialist influence in the country is still rampant today. The business and political elite in Algeria have maintained power by cooperating with the neocolonial French elite; most of the corrupt members of the Algerian army and government also own countless assets in France.
The people also call “to oppose and condemn the provision of military, financial, diplomatic, and any other forms of assistance and intervention from imperialist governments…”
France’s presence in the country is primarily motivated by unfair and exploitative oil deals which reproduce patterns of colonialism. Protesters have called for a removal of the hizb frança, or Party of France, which includes all the actors they see as key in the imperialist influence of France. The Hirak movement has also denounced the army’s, specifically General Salah’s, subservience to the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which they see as an extension of US imperialism. The protests have also regularly featured Palestinian flags, despite the edict passed by Salah’s that bans flags that are not the national one. The Hirak movement has expressed solidarity with Palestinian and Sudanese uprisings as a collective movement of liberation that is not limited to Algeria.
We must stand in solidarity with the people of Algeria in their struggle for liberation and their call for a return to democracy. Elections have been expected to happen before the end of the year; however, protesters will not tolerate a rigged voting system and corrupt political elite for another 20 years. Western media’s portrayal of these protests as a renewed Arab Spring, or as a disorganized, leaderless movement, is actively harmful. We must remain alert and informed beyond a colonized, archaic way of reporting. You can show your support by going to weekly demonstrations, which happen at Place du Canada every Sunday at 11am. You can also sign and share the international statement of solidarity with the Algerian Popular Revolt.