On April 2, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned from his position after 20 years in power, ousted by widespread protests that began when he announced, almost two months prior, that he would be seeking a fifth term. Uniquely in the Arab world after the Arab Spring, Algerian protestors “‘removed a president without exiling him,’ as in Tunisia, ‘(w)ithout imprisoning him,’ as in Egypt, ‘(a)nd without killing him,’ as in Libya.” A bloodless revolution. Now four months after Bouteflika’s resignation, however, protestors continue to take to the streets of Algiers in significant numbers twice a week.
To the protestors, Bouteflika was simply one cog in the government machine often referred to simply as “power,” which also includes a cadre of government officials, wealthy businessmen, and the military’s upper echelons. When Bouteflika announced he would not seek another term amidst the earlier protests, the protestors soundly rebuffed this concession by the government. The last straw, though, was Bouteflika’s April 1 announcement that he would resign by April 28, which wasn’t soon enough, and the army chief of staff, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, forced Bouteflika to resign the next day.
Central in the ousting, Gaid Salah quickly became a very important figure in the transition period, serving as a de facto leader instead of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah. Under his de facto rule, he “has presided over a purge of the elderly leader’s associates and senior officials, sending a dozen or more to prison on corruption charges. However, he has refused to facilitate a civilian-led political transition. Presidential elections, due on July 4, were postponed for lack of candidates.” Also, since June, his forces have arrested protestors and blocked news websites. The General has continued to push for a presidential poll to be held as soon as possible, but protestors continue to reject this unless initiated by a civilian-led interim administration without the involvement of the military, interim President Bensalah, or Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, all of whom are considered ‘old guard’ power players. Both previous attempts by the military to schedule elections have been denied, with protestors fearing the polls potentially being rigged.
In order to develop a plan “to mediate between the public authorities and the civil society and parties,” Bensalah announced on July 25 the creation of a 6/7-member committee. This body, known as the Algerian Mediation and Dialogue Committee, revealed its plan on July 30 to invite 23 more national figures to the body to help expand its scope, but protestors reject the body’s mandate as unrepresentative of those in the streets. The same day, General Gaid Salah rejected the preconditions demanded by protestors to allow a presidential poll to proceed and continues to press for elections to be held soon.
Fortunately for civilians, the protestors currently appear to have the upper hand over the de facto military rule. The protests have been far too successful and popular in their ousting of President Bouteflika for Gaid Salah to use violence to quell the protests. Polls conducted by Brookings early last month of civilian protestors, civilian non-protestors, and military personnel (soldiers, junior officers, and senior officers) have shown broad support for the protests, their goals, their ousting of Bouteflika, as well as the need for radical change of the nation’s political system. With that in mind, even if military leadership gave orders for violence to be used against protestors, it is unclear whether, if not unlikely that, rank-and-file soldiers would do so. With the vigor and stamina of the protests still strong after five months, and strong support across the country, a civilian-led government looks poised to rule in Algeria once again sooner rather than later.
- By Michael Pappas, WACNH Events and Education Coordinator