Ending Bouteflika’s Algeria: This is not the Arab Spring

Source: APA

Originally published at www.alaraby.co.uk on March 14th 2019

The government, however, has freely manipulated the national memory of civil war to deter people from using the medium of protests to express their demands, and to maintain “trust” in the ruling establishment, where security and stability are guaranteed.

Bouteflika’s U-turn is evidence that Algerians have achieved something exclusive to them

But not anymore.

Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia’s provocative commentsaddresses made by the Chief of Staff of the army, Ahmed Gaid Saleh, and Bouteflika himself, warning of “internal and foreign elements aiming to destabilise Algeria” by infiltrating the demonstrations.

Bouteflika’s U-turn is evidence that Algerians have achieved something exclusive to them; defined by them, through an organised, peaceful display of national frustration.

Online groups and activists have maintained their calls for Algerians to avoid behaviour that could provoke violence and repression. The response has been remarkable, and large numbers of Algerians — young and old, across the country — have taken pride in holding protests with few confrontations or injuries, and that clean up after themselves.

Read more: Algeria’s President Bouteflika pulls out of elections after mass protests

The overt display of affection towards security forces and slogans of “the police, army and people are brothers” are an indication that Algerians have no intention of replicating the Arab Spring, which they view as synonymous with chaos and violent expressions of resistance.

Bouteflika -groups on social media implored Algerians to return to their homes, suggesting “now is not the time for protest”.

Bouteflika’s ailing health meant he was unable to present his candidacy or address his people in person, and the president and the ruling National Liberation Front’s actions were in clear defiance of the people’s opposition to a fifth term.

“I listened and heard the cry of the hearts of the demonstrators, and in particular the thousands of young people who questioned me about the future of our country,” Bouteflika had written in a letter to the people that was read out on state TV last weekPredictions of what might happen in the long term are futile, given the complex nature of Algeria’s ruling system, where power is not concentrated to one individual or family, like in Syria, or defined by a social makeup dominated by a fragile balance of ethnic and tribal margins.

Reducing the past few weeks to the blueprint of the Arab Spring is overly simplistic

Comparisons with the Black October riots in 1988 — which were provoked by divisions between the regime’s rival camps leading to mass protests and a tumultuous democratisation process — may have gone some way in 2011 to explaining why Algerians did not embrace the Arab Spring.

Algeria’s national budget and currency reserves have almost halved since 2014, meaning the state can no longer buy a fragile social peace using its billion-dollar revenues from oil and gas exports, following the fall in crude oil and natural gas prices.

Bouteflika faced unprecedented protests in recent weeks demanding that
he abandon plans to seek another term [Getty]

Constitution stipulates, that if “a serious and lasting illness” prevents the president from fulfilling his or her duties he must be replaced — and Algerians today can celebrate that Bouteflika will live out the rest of his days in retirement.

Bouteflika’s acknowledgment of protests and his earlier proposal to step down only after re-election next month had been largely viewed as an attempt to buy time for The Pouvoir, while they reach a consensus on a suitable successor — despite the deep fracture within the ruling elite.

But given the opaque nature of the ruling apparatus in Algeria, predictions of what to expect tomorrow, let alone within the year, are futile.

Reducing the past few weeks to the blueprint of the Arab Spring is overly simplistic, and fails to credit the movement with an exclusively Algerian lens, one defined by its complex socio-political dynamics, history of self-determination and fiercely independent nature.

What can be ascertained however, is that the Algerian people — who have mobilised themselves in such a way that unionists, opposition parties and Bouteflika himself have had no choice but to take heed — will continue to express their demands with a touch of special Algerian humour.

The rest of us must listen, and watch.

Originally published at www.alaraby.co.uk.

Researcher/Journalist specialising in North Africa | Focus on Algeria |