Uprisings against the decades long dominance of neoliberal “centre-right” and “centre-left” governments that benefit the wealthy and multinational corporations at the expense of working people are sweeping the world.
Algeria is no different. A long-standing protest movement in Algeria has rejected the recent election results and the country’s entire political system as corrupt. The regime has pressed on and has since endorsed the outcome of the elections. Are the two sides on a collision course?
At the same time protesters in Lebanon and Iraq may well look towards Algeria in the coming weeks for indications of what happens to a protest movement that refuses to accept a partial victory. Despite having successfully ousted long time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who after a 2013 stroke ruled in name only and seen many government ministers arrested for corruption, the peaceful protest movement that began in February has only intensified over the past month in rejection of December 12 elections.
The Hirak, (Arabic for Movement), as the movement is known, accuses the current power apparatus of using a presidential election to prevent genuine democratic reforms and prop up its networks of sleaze and dishonesty. The past interim government of Abdelkader Bensaleh and its military allies had signaled their intention to maintain the system protecting their rule by approving five candidates, all of them connected to the Bouteflika regime. Behind them was what protesters see as a murky system of “clientelism” and nepotism involving politicians, military officials and businessmen who have long bled the proceeds of Algeria’s rentier system without reinvesting in the state.
While the Movement (Hirak), has been characterized by its staunch commitment to peace, increasing arrests of protest leaders and journalists in recent weeks and pro-government demonstrations over the weekend have raised the prospect of a confrontation. Human Rights Watch said many of the scores of activists arrested since September face charges as vague as “harming national unity” and “undermining the morale of the army.”
Luca Miehe, an Algeria researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said that the arrest of prominent journalists sent shockwaves through the Movement.
“We have harsh repression of the media and the large wave of detention of political prisoners,” Miehe said. “So I think we can expect drastically more confrontation from the side of the regime, but I do think the Hirak is still expressly nonviolent.”
The Movement has fought back by putting up garbage bags and pictures of detained opposition figures in places reserved for election posters.
Although some of the five candidates running have pushed for reforms, all are tainted by association with the establishment, resulting in the odd situation of a rejection of elections in the name of democracy.
During the campaigns, former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune who subsequently has won this sham election, seen as the late army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah’s man, had to cancel his first rally in Algiers due to low turnout. His campaign manager also resigned, and a major funder has been jailed on corruption charges.
Ali Benflis, also a former PM, has been met with heckling and heavy demonstrations against him, as has former Tourism Minister Abdelkader Bengrine.
“It has really been a parody of a campaign. Their gatherings and rallies took place under heavy protection from the police,” said Hamdi Baala, an independent journalist who has covered the Hirak movement since its inception. “In every city or town these candidates visited, there were arrests of a number of counter protesters who went to the venues and expressed their opposition to the campaign and election as a whole.”
Baala said it is not only guilt by association but the perception of a rigged vote that has caused Algerians to reject the elections, while members of the protest movement have refused to run both out of fear and in order not to legitimize the process.
“It is very much a bad copy of democracy where we have a parliament, we have held regular elections for a long time, but everything has been rigged or controlled,” Baala said. “There is no transparency. There is no guarantee of free and fair elections. “Rather than elections, protesters have consistently argued for what they call a second republic; the “installation” of a true democracy, true rule of law,” Baala said.
Besides Bouteflika’s resignation and their success in pushing national elections back earlier this year, the Movement has seen other limited gains, with a corruption “mega-trial” going to court this week involving seven politicians and four businessmen on charges of graft and misappropriating public funds.
Luca Miehe said that while Algerians feel that the fundamental change they are demanding hasn’t happened, they also see through the current regime’s strategy of trying to win over the Movement by staging trials and incarcerating people that are already unpopular.
“What the regime has been trying to do is create the impression of democratic change without actually engaging in one,” Miehe said. “That’s why we also get the rejection of the elections because people perceive it as a facade to legitimize the current regime, a regime that has not in fact changed fundamentally.”
In conclusion, one can categorically state that what is going on in Algeria is obviously replicated elsewhere in Africa. In Many African countries this has become the norm where leaders have created systems that benefit them and their colonial masters. On the outside, one sees elections being held every four or five years and continue to recycle the same corrupt elites who continue to plunder the nations resources with blessings from the Zionist/Imperialist axis of corruption.
Dr Mustafa Mheta
Researcher/Head of Africa Desk
Media Review Network
011 837 3220