Algerians continue to protest, seeking new political system

Islamist politician expresses doubts whether it will be feasible to hold presidential election on July 4

By DIMA ABUMARIA/ THE MEDIA LINE
May 20, 2019 15:40
2 minute read.
A demonstrator carries a sign as teachers and students take part in a protest

A demonstrator carries a sign as teachers and students take part in a protest demanding immediate political change in Algiers, Algeria March 13, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/RAMZI BOUDINA)

 
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Demonstrators in Algiers protested for the thirteenth Friday in a row demanding the departure of the ruling elites connected with the regime of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. They succeeded in bypassing a security cordon imposed by police and broke into the central post office in the Algerian capital despite police use of tear gas.

The demonstrators have been placing tremendous pressure on senior officials, especially those affiliated with the elites that have governed the North African country since independence from France in 1962, to step down. Bouteflika, in power for 20 years and in ill health following a 2013 stroke, resigned on April 2 following pressure from demonstrators as well as the army.

Earlier this month, his youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs were placed in custody by a military judge for “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority.” Before that, at least five businessmen, including the country’s wealthiest person, Issad Rebrab, were detained for alleged corruption.

The younger Bouteflika became Algeria’s de facto ruler after his brother’s stroke.

Demonstrators are also demanding the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the country’s upper house of parliament, who was appointed to replace Bouteflika for 90 days to oversee a presidential election, currently scheduled for July 4.

As for the election, Abdul Razzaq Makri, head of the Movement of Society for Peace, the largest Islamist-oriented party in Algeria, said at a press conference on May 17 that it would be “politically and technically impossible” to hold it by July 4.

"Algerians today need dialogue and reconciliation, as well as [unity]" for a successful transition to democracy, he said. He stressed the need to avoid conflict and respect all views and opinions.

Speaking of the weekly demonstrations, Makri called for the need to "preserve their peaceful character." He also said he hoped Algerian justice would proceed "in accordance with a legal framework that guarantees the protection of the country and its future." Nizar al-Makan, a Tunisian political analyst, told The Media Line that the Algerian protesters were demanding to change the entire regime completely “without the supervision of the military establishment.” However, the military in Algeria is very strong and does not support the people’s demands.


“The Algerian political system has relied completely on the military establishment for stability since the country’s independence in 1962,” Makan said.

Nevertheless, he stressed that the army was trying to reach a solution with protest leaders.

“The army is trying to negotiate now,” he stated, “but it might take radical steps at some point if an agreement isn’t reached.”

Ahmed al-Baz, a political analyst who teaches at Sudan’s National Ribat University, told the The Media Line that the issue had to do with strong military traditions, explaining that the country’s military establishment considers itself a “basic part of the country” and construes many of the slogans used by the protesters as being anti- military.

“The military fears that if it compromises with the street, the latter’s ambition will grow and… its demands will increase,” he said, noting that you cannot simply do away with the army.

“The movement and the opposition haven’t provided any clear alternatives, which complicates the situation even more,” he explained.

For more stories, go to medialine.org.

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