A man stands in road, proudly holding the Algerian flag above his head as it waves in the wind. Behind him, a body of protesters are approaching from the distance, their chants slowly getting louder as they draw closer. It’s the 2nd of August 2019, despite being almost seven months of protests, they continue to hold the type of energy and moment that can only come from 20-years of deep, systematic repression.
The population reached tipping point when the former president, Abdelaziz Boutiflika marked his 20th year in power on April 2019. Erupting into peaceful protests, the Hirak movement was born, ‘Hirak’ meaning movement, after a stagnant 65-years of military regime. Algeria won its independence from the French in 1962, one of the longest decolonisation struggles of the 20th century. Starting from the streets and stirring reform from below is ingrained within its long history of retaliation, rebellion and insurgency.
An elderly lady shouts at the top of her voice (in Arabic):
“WE GOT THE FRENCH OUT, AND NOW WE GET THEM [THE MILITARY POWER] OUT.”
Boutiflika announced his fifth term of 20-years in power On April 2018. The streets erupted. It took two weeks of protests to prise the power off the leader and demand a re-election. But this was just the beginning of a long-awaited set of demands, questions and grievances that have been bubbling away in the Algerian population since Boutiflika drew an end to the Civil War between the government and Islamic rebel groups in 2002.
As his presidency under a military regime drew on, his health deteriorated, eventually becoming wheelchair-bound in 2013 after stroke left him immobilised. His public appearances became scarcer, he eventually became known as the ‘silent government’ and left the country to the rule of what the Algerian’s refer to as the ‘pouvoir’ or the ‘powers that be’.
GOVERNMENT CRACKDOWN AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Since the demonstrations began, the military has made efforts to repress the protestors through intimidation, roadblocks and checkpoints across the capital, Algiers. Algeria’s top independent news site, Tout Sur l’Algérie (TSA) has also been blocked throughout the period of the protests. Political and nongovernmental meeting have been shutdown and those bearing Amazigh flag, also known as berbers, have been accused “undermining the integrity of the territory” and threatened with imprisonment. All of which, have led human rights groups to questions the violations against peaceful acts of protests, freedom of speech and access to information.
In June 2019, General Gaid Salah, a military man appointed by Boutifilika, warned against “attempt by some foreign parties” to “destabalise he country” and threaten Algeria and “infiltrate demonstrations”, in reference to the Amazigh flag bearers, (the blue, green and yellow flag pictured above). After his speech, security forces cracked down on 40 Amazigh members, six of these protestors have been prosecuted two-years in prison for carrying the flag and “undermining the integrity of the territory”. The right to wave an ethnic flag is classified as peaceful expression protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Algeria ratified in 1989.
Corruption, unemployment and lost opportunity
Algeria is a vast, dry, country, the bridge between Africa and Europe. Deep within the arad earth lies a wealth of oil, a powerful driving force behind countries economy that has always been its biggest market. Although this remains Algeria’s only market, other sectors of development lack funding and support, meaning less employment. According to the World Bank, lack of employment is disproportionately high amongst younger citizens, women and the Amazigh community.
Despite oil generating billions of dollars in revenue each year, little of this wealth trickles down the population, creating the eruption of anguish that has weeded out a number of corrupt officials and businessmen. In June this year, Djamel Ould Abbes, a senator who was close to the former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was incarcerated for “squandering public funds, illegals signing deals, and falsifying official documents”. Several senior officials, including former president, Abdelmalek Sellal, and eight former ministers were also trialled for corruption allegations.
Since unemployment is as high as 29% amongst the youth, the frustration over the lack of opportunity can be felt amid the protests. Students are mobilising at high numbers every Tuesday since the resignation of Boutiflika.
Students also denounced a hydrocarbons law that was passed in court this week, attacking Minister Belkacem Zeghmati for “manipulating the judiciary to serve gangs interests” and only appeasing global oil companies. For the first time in Algeria’s history, younger demonstrators are drawing attention to environmental issues.
Algeria is victim to constant deforestation. Wide-spread forest fires across Oran have been evident of the disastrous consequences that logging has on Algeria’s few remaining green spaces.
Algeria is looking to the future, breaking free from its stagnation with energy and vitality for the future generation. There will be challenges that lie ahead, it’s still unclear who will be given candidacy once the military are cleared from power. But the population is tired of false promises for ‘transparent elections’ that are not transparent and the lost promises for change. For real change to happen, the old members of the state must be cleared to bring forward candidates outside of the regime that can offer fresh perspectives to renew a stagnant nation that benefits Algeria as a whole. The situation is complex, but Algeria is rising, and this much has been declared.