Mass Uprising in Algeria

On Friday, February 22, 900,000 Algerians — men and women — demonstrated throughout Algeria against the fifth term requested by the entourage of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (who is seriously ill and is currently hospitalized in Switzerland) during the presidential election on April 18. [Bouteflika has already served four terms as president — Tr. Note.] Everywhere, demonstrators headed peacefully toward the seats of power. On February 25, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia announced that there would be no backing down by outgoing President Bouteflika from his decision to stand for re-election, and the prime minister warned of the “risk of dangerous slippage”. Tuesday the 26th, it was the students’ turn to go on strike and take to the streets in large numbers [read our previous issue of Tribune des Travailleurs / Workers Tribune; articles reprinted in this dossier].
Tuesday, February 26. It is now the turn of the national education workers to join the movement. The 48-hour strike planned for several days by the autonomous unions is widely followed: 65% of the workers are on strike from the very first day, and numerous rallies are held in several cities. The strike movement is supported by parents and high school students alike, who are also getting in motion. Other categories of workers express their rejection of maintaining the system concentrated in the fifth mandate, including lawyers and public radio journalists who have launched a movement affirming that they are “in the service of the public and not the authorities”. Strikes are breaking out all over, such as that of long-haul bus drivers.
In various unions affiliated with the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), in reaction to the positions of the General Secretary of the UGTA, Abdelmadjid Sidi Saïd, who is one of the spearheads of the fifth mandate, activists and leaders are beginning to speak out against the positions of the General Secretary.
On the same day, a high-profile meeting was held between the Algerian Prime Minister and a delegation from the U.S. State Department. In the summits of political power, in Paris as in Washington, there is concern about what may occur to challenge the status quo. ….
A rally of radio journalists is taking place in support of Meriem Abdou, whose radio program “L’Histoire en marche” [History on the March], on Channel 3, has been suspended by the management because of its protest against the media blackout of the demonstrations.
Wednesday, February 27. The strike continues in the National Education system. New calls for demonstrations on Friday March 1st are circulating on social networks. The Chief of the Army Staff echoed the Prime Minister’s arguments, warning of “possible violence on Friday”.
As a sign of the first fissures in the State apparatus, top cadre  of the Front de libération nationale (National Liberation Front, FLN), some of whom were excluded from the party, published a letter stating: “The FLN has not been and will never be against the aspirations of the Algerian people”.
Thursday, February 28. In Algiers, a rally of journalists has been convened. “Free and independent press!” – “No to the fifth term! “, chanted the journalists. The rally was dispersed by the police, who arrested several participants — including an elected Deputy of the National Assembly — all of whom were released shortly afterwards.
For their part, 13 autonomous trade unions from different sectors, meeting on February 28, reaffirmed, in a statement, “their commitment to a democratic Algeria that respects the popular will, an Algeria of public and individual freedoms, an Algeria of social justice“. They also reasserted their “rejection of the country’s policy orientations that call into question the social State and workers’ gains as well as the policy of suffocating trade union freedoms“.
Friday, March 1. In the morning, in the capital city of Algiers, the excitement is palpable in all neighborhoods. It seems that all of Algiers is heading to the two starting points for the mass demonstration: the Place du 1er-Mai and the Place Maurice-Audin. The police officers, in large numbers, deployed at all crossroads and all the way to the presidential building, did not move. However, tear gas was used here and there against demonstrators from the beginning of the afternoon. Protesters — seemingly responding to all those who have raised the specter of “violence” in the previous days — chant: “Neither Libya nor Syria“… Their message is that the massive demonstrations of the Algerian people for their democratic rights have nothing in common with the so-called “Arab revolutions” and imperialist interference.
There were officially 800,000 demonstrators in Algiers that day, much more than last week, and millions more were in the streets across the country, with 100,000 or more in Constantine, Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou: “We have the impression that the whole city is in the streets“. Many are young people, many are women, many wave Algerian flags… The slogans against the fifth mandate are echoing everywhere, they are displayed on thousands of signs made by the demonstrators. Many demonstrators state: “It is not against Bouteflika personally, that we are protesting, especially since he is seriously ill.” The horrors of the “black decade” of the 1990s are well remembered. That is why many people say, “What we are challenging is the system.” “Young people are getting involved; System: get out of the way!“, shout the students. It is another “historic” day.

Saturday, March 2. The press, including those close to the government and the Prime Minister, are forced to acknowledge that “the street wants change“. On the eve of the deadline for candidates to submit their applications to run for office, set for March 3, the question is posed: Are some of them, those “up there on top”, considering a way out of the crisis? In recent days, others have also spoken of a desirable “postponement of the presidential election”. In any case, the announcement of the dismissal of Bouteflika’s campaign director, Abdelmalek Sellal, and his replacement by another senior official of the regime, is a flop.

Sunday, March 3. This is a crucial day because, according to the Constitution, it is on this day that candidates must submit their candidacy applications to the Constitutional Council.

During the day, Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s nomination is submitted for a fifth term, as is that of a retired general, Ali Ghediri, who announced his candidacy a few weeks earlier.

Ghediri, candidate of the regime, you have thrown Boutef a lifejacket!“, chanted students gathered in the early afternoon on the outskirts of the Constitutional Council. For many citizens, the announcement of these candidates reinforces the illegitimate nature of the election from the outset and, beyond that, of the institutions.

A letter, attributed to Abdelaziz Bouteflika and read on public television, states that he has heard “the cry from the hearts of the demonstrators and in particular from the hearts of thousands of young people”. He goes on to pledge that, if re-elected, he will draft a new Constitution, and will not to stand as a candidate in an early presidential election. In the evening and then at night, there was a spontaneous and unprecedented mobilization of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets against what appears to be a coup de force.

On March 3, the newspaper El Watan published an appeal that has been circulating for several days, signed by eleven academics and writers — including the former dean of the Faculty of Law of Algiers — and known as the “Intellectuals’ Appeal for the Constituent Assembly”. This text states, in particular: “We call for the organization of national assemblies bringing together all the democratic forces of the nation, which should strive to define the conditions for a political transition, with the establishment of a Constituent Assembly whose task will be to give the country a new Constitution and to prepare plural, free and open elections so that, for the first time in its history, the Algerian people will finally appropriate their full sovereignty.”

This is one initiative among others, which expresses the search for a democratic political outcome, reclaiming a slogan — the Sovereign Constituent Assembly — that was at the heart of the North African Star (Etoile Nord Africaine, or ENA) program since its formation in 1927 as the first organization fighting for the independence of Algeria and that of the Maghreb nations.

Monday, March 4. In many universities, the strike is massively supported, with the extension of the night demonstrations of the previous day.

From nine in the morning, a dense crowd has gathered around the Maison du peuple d’Alger, the headquarters of the UGTA trade union federation. Trade unionists, some from afar, have responded to calls challenging the positions of the top union officials, including those of Secretary General Sidi Saïd, a supporter of the fifth term. “Sidi Saïd, get out of here!” – “Independent and democratic UGTA!” – “Privileged, privileged — and they call themselves trade unionists!“, chanted nearly 3,000 activists and leaders, while others were mobilized by the union leadership for a vote “against” — that is, in support of the policies of the officialdom. The rally was finally dispersed by the police around 11am.

In tandem with this movement in which union activists and leaders seek to reclaim their unions for independent struggle, the working class is also seeking to set itself in motion. This Monday, in the late morning, at Sonatrach — the emblematic public hydrocarbon company — nearly half of the workforce walked off the job … and management was struggling to “get the workers back” in the afternoon.

Massive Demonstrations in Algeria Against Bouteflika’s Bid for a Fifth Term

(reprinted from Issue No. 178 —  February 27, 2019 — of Tribune des Travailleurs / Workers Tribune)

On Friday February 22, people kept saying “Nothing will ever be as before”. At 11 a.m. and then again early in the afternoon, massive marches were staged in tens of cities and towns in Algeria. They had been called by appeals on social networks to oppose President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office in the coming April 18 presidential election. In Algiers, several tens of thousands of marchers — a high number of youth among them — converged towards no less than five assembly points and marched to the government’s seat and the president’s palace.

According to police estimates, the number of demonstrators was somewhere around 900,000 all across the national territory, among which 100,000 in the capital city of Algiers. This explains why Algerians were so bitter when, in the evening, numerous French media announced that there had been “a few hundred demonstrators in Algiers”. It should be noted that since 2001, gatherings like this one have been banned in the city. This was the case, for example, of the march of resident doctors in January 2018, which was scattered by police forces.

This time, things have gone otherwise, first because the contingents were so numerous and, second, because rank and file policemen simply looked on. The marchers brandished the national flag and chanted slogans against a fifth term and against the regime, all the time converging toward government buildings.

During the hours that followed, the regime’s top representatives sought to preserve the institutions and the April 18 presidential election at all cost. Despite this containment effort, a string of issues – among which social demands, the nature of the regime, setting up democracy, preserving national sovereignty — that had been put on the back burner for decades, surfaced again under a new form.

On February 25, long-distance bus drivers went on strike. As for high school students, on February 25 and 26, they called a strike and then, on the 26 and 27, the autonomous unions of national education workers called a new strike with protest sit-ins especially in Batna, Laghouat, Relizane, and Blida. University students, for their part, were called to walk out on February 26, especially to protest the deregulation in universities as the consequence of the implementation of the LMD (Bachelor, Master, Doctorate) system.

Finally, numerous public service journalists, especially the public radio, have issued a collective protest against the way marches have been reported in the State media, declaring, “We are public service journalists, not State journalists”.

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