Protests in Algeria Despite New Elections

Algerian people protest in the streets of Béjaïa, Algeria. (Wikimedia Commons)

Algerian people protest in the streets of Béjaïa, Algeria. (Wikimedia Commons)

Algeria is scheduled to hold elections on December 12 after more than six months of nationwide protests. Long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika left office in April as a result of these protests. “Elections are the only democratic solution to the crisis,” Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah said on September 15, according to Al Jazeera. 

The Algerian public reached a breaking point this winter after years of rising unemployment rates and  rampant corruption among the elite. The mass protests began in February after the former president announced his bid for a fifth term in office, the Guardian reports. Bouteflika and his powerful circle of generals and businessmen, known as le pouvoir, or “the power,” had ruled the country since 1999. 

Furthermore, Bouteflika appeared like a proxy leader to some given his debilitated state of health following a stroke in 2013 that left him unable to walk or talk. Because of this and the Algerian government’s rather opaque functioning, Bouteflika himself was not the sole or even the main target of protests in the spring. This context helps to explain why people are still demonstrating today despite the developments in the country, according to BBC.  

Algerians continued to protest in the streets after Bouteflika withdrew his bid for reelection and are demanding a complete overhaul of the current political system. The army-backed government that took over after Bouteflika’s resignation canceled the elections previously set for July 4 due to a lack of candidates. Protesters are voicing their displeasure with the current government, calling for “a civilian, not military state,” according to France24. 

Due to mixed signals from the current government, there is some concern that the upcoming elections will not be as free as the public hopes. Algerian authorities have been trying to calm protesters by prosecuting several of Bouteflika’s allies accused of corruption. However, to the dismay of many, the police have been cracking down on protesters and jailing dozens, including several prominent opposition leaders. Demonstrators are now calling for the removal of General Ahmed Gaid Salah over fears that he may hamper free and fair elections.

“The people want the fall of Gaid Salah,” the protesters chanted, according to Al Jazeera. “Take us all to prison, the people will not stop.” 

Algeria’s youth in particular do not want another figurehead president. They want a new generation to take over and accomplish real and badly needed political and economic reform, Reuters reports. A man’s attempt to self-immolate in Algiers reflects the urgency of the situation in the eyes of much of the country’s younger generation. 

The size and duration of the protests in Algeria are unprecedented, and the Algerian people show no signs of being satisfied with recent efforts at reform.