Algeria: a year later, the hirak at a crossroads

A year ago, a human tide swept through Algerian cities to oppose the fifth term of Abdelaziz Bouteflika that the presidential clan wanted to impose. The Hirak was born. This February 22, 2019, despite the efforts of the old regime to block the demonstrations announced on social networks, bringing together riot forces and media relays to quell this movement, the Algerians came out en masse and they achieved the impossible for a few weeks after: bring down President Bouteflika, in power for twenty years.

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The system response

A year later, the question remains: why are the protests continuing? From the point of view of the authorities and a certain opinion, the main claims of the Hirak have been satisfied. The Bouteflika caste is no longer in power, the younger brother of the deposed president, described as “regent” of the country, is sentenced to 15 years in prison for “conspiracy”. The main figures of the Bouteflika regime are prosecuted or in prison, in particular two ex-Prime Ministers, ministers, prefects, a police boss, the head of the gendarmerie… All prosecuted for corruption cases. The powerful oligarchs who took advantage of their proximity to the power of the Bouteflika, like Ali Haddad and the Kouninef brothers, are also in prison, involved in several corruption cases. One of the strong slogans of Hirak was “Thieves, you have pillaged the country!” “. The army therefore tried to respond to this demand by “encouraging” the justice to reopen all the files put under the elbow by the old regime. There too, opinion could only doubt the sincerity of an army boss, himself a figure of the Bouteflika regime. This distrust explains well today the discrepancy of visions between the new power of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, president elected last December 12 with a strong abstention, and the hirak and its most prominent activists.

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Today, and since his election, President Tebboune describes the hirak as “blessed” whose peaceful and civic character he praises in his speeches. His Minister of Communication, Amar Belhimer, reiterated on Tuesday February 19 the same elements of language: “The hirak is a blessed autonomous popular movement which saved the Algerian state from an announced collapse […]. [Il] There is no question of violating the pursuit of the Hirak which may in the future feed a watch system, the birth of a new civil society, of associations on new bases, and the re-founding of the political scene. “

The head of state launched the constitutional reform project to “respond to the aspirations of the Algerians” who want a change in the mode of governance. The idea is also – and above all – to insist on freedoms: to end, for example, the bureaucratic straitjacket that encloses public meetings and political activities by canceling the authorization system.

The political wing of Hirak wants the system to leave

These opening projects and his rather non-hostile speeches towards the Hirak did not find a positive echo either within the popular movement or among a part of the opposition. The demonstrators who continue to go out every Friday and every Tuesday, who are often subjected to pressure from the heavily deployed police, completely reject the initiatives of the political power, demanding a radical change and not recognizing President Tebboune as elected president.

The political wing of Hirak, the Pact of the Democratic Alternative (PAD), grouping leftist parties and liberal laymen, considers the presidential election of December 12 as “a coup that confirms the irresponsibility of de facto authorities and renews the illegitimacy of the regime ”. The PAD demands a period of “democratic transition capable of satisfying the legitimate aspirations of the Algerian people”. Fethi Ghares, MDS leader (ex-PAGS, left) said at the PAD meeting in late January: “In a popular revolution, we do not dialogue, but we negotiate the end of an authoritarian regime”. This position of categorical refusal of any dialogue with power is not consensus, especially as a fringe of opinion is wary of a “radical” who does not say his name but who often expresses himself, as this was the case in the summer of 2019, when activists launched the idea of ​​”civil disobedience”, or calls to obstruct the presidential election in December. “It is absolutely false to say that the Hirak refuses dialogue. Yes, there are in the hirak those who have a radical position and systematic refusal. But there is a large part of the Algerians who have done the hirak since February 22 and who think that it is high time to find solutions to the political crisis “, maintains the opponent Soufiane Djilali of the party Jil Jadid (New Generation ) who agreed to meet Tebboune as part of the consultations launched by the latter. “There is a form of contempt for a large part of the people. […] Among our fellow citizens there is balance and common sense. Many should take seed of it instead of proclaiming themselves “the people”, while believing to purify it by excommunicating all those who do not share their point of view. They have psychologically appropriated the hirak and dictate, on its behalf, the ukases. At this rate of things and in the face of these deplorable drifts, power will play well. ”

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Why such schizophrenia?

“It is completely false to speak of” radicalization “of the movement,” protests Samia, a doctor in the suburbs of Algiers, who has been demonstrating for almost a year and taking part in the animation of collective citizens and feminists. “The Algerians who demonstrate are very politicized, they demand social justice and sound and effective governance, it is the authorities who radicalize by imposing the presidential and imprisoning young activists,” she continues.

“Faced with the massive Hirak protest movement, the security forces used unjustified or excessive force to disperse certain demonstrations and arbitrarily arrested hundreds of protesters”, denounces Amnesty International in its latest report on human rights in the Middle – East and North Africa. The successive releases of Hirak detainees (especially those accused of having disrupted electoral rallies in December) over the past three weeks do not seem to affect the resentment of the Hirakists against the authorities.

Is there therefore a kind of schizophrenia in the attitude of the authorities towards the hirak? The fact is that, on the political power side, there would be “two hiraks”: “the one, blessed and magnificent, who brought down the fifth term and prevented the collapse of Algeria as a state”, sums up a senior official. “The other hirak is that of activists who, instead of studying the advances that we are trying to make for a new governance, are making outbids and radicalization. “

This week, activists from Hirak (the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, lawyers, journalists, students and citizens’ collectives) plan to meet to launch a new initiative to develop a ” unitary political platform “:” If the hirak has succeeded in “miracles”, it remains, however, to translate its demands into a “political and social contract” “, writes the daily El Watan using the words of Said Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights. The activist wishes above all to clarify that “it is not a question of structuring, nor of representations of the hirak, which represents the will of the people”.

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Put an end to the “pretense political system”

The opinion within the hirak, rather majority, is wary of any organization of the movement synonymous with political recovery or sketch to identify representatives able to “negotiate” with the capacity. It is this question of representation that has long haunted discussions within the popular movement: how to continue the citizen struggle without an identifiable political project? Some believe that the Hirak would have lost a golden opportunity at the beginning of the summer, when the regime was unable to impose its roadmap and a presidential election in early July finally postponed: a Hirakist and legitimate organization could, according to many , to assume itself as a counterweight to define the democratic transition. But the repression against the bearers of Berber flags and the arrests of activists neutralized this option. “Also, we must remember here the calculations of the politicians of certain opposition parties who wanted at all costs to take a stand vis-à-vis the presidential abortion afterwards, these political professionals wanted to ride the hirak for s “impose against the interim authorities,” said an opposition official. The latter regrets that neither the government nor the opposition have made an “objective reading of what happened during a year”.

For Said Loucif, professor of social psychology of organizations, “today we are faced with an intellectual requirement to rethink political activity, and in particular the fact of opposing all domination. For decades, Algerians lived in a sham political system. What you call opposition parties are, in the end, in their majority, only devices created to precisely drown “political things”. Hirak today poses the problem of the regime and of formal opposition, in the same way without any distinction, since they together form the same system, with a few nuances. “

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