Leadership are busy maneuvering ahead of February 22 when Algeria will mark the anniversary of its Hirak protests.
Rabat – Algeria finds itself on the “eve” of the anniversary of the Hirak protests that toppled former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019. Ahead of the anniversary, Algeria’s leaders are busy attempting to shift attention towards elections in June.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune will directly speak to the nation tonight in a televised address, the first official presidential address since his COVID-19 hospitalization. Algeria’s press service reports that Tebboune will announce “important decisions,” including the dissolution of parliament as part of a move towards early legislative elections.
Tebboune is expected to announce the schedule of the upcoming elections, as well as a sudden cabinet reshuffle, according to Soufiane Djilali, head of the Jil Jadid party. Tebboune intends to change his cabinet in order to create new energy at the head of several ministries, Djilali said.
Focus on elections
It appears that ahead of the Hirak anniversary on Monday, Algeria’s elite, locally known as “the power” clearly wishes to shift the public’s focus away from revolutionary thoughts and toward a national debate on the upcoming elections.
President Tebboune has been meeting with leaders of Algeria’s political parties, including a meeting with prominent opposition party the Socialist Front (FFS.)
The meeting between FFS leaders and the long-absent president was not received well by the party’s supporters as many expect extensive political maneuvering ahead of Monday’s anniversary.
Algeria’s political elite appears to be maneuvering desperately ahead of the looming anniversary of the hirak protests, with little response to public demands. A constitutional referendum was envisioned to end the movement by nominally addressing some of the protesters’ demands. Yet the referendum turned into a debacle for “the power” as most Algerians boycotted the vote.
Supporters of Algeria’s popular protest movement are similarly thinking of democracy, yet they envision a democratic transition that would dethrone Algeria’s powerful elite. For many Algerians, the Hirak protests have never ended but were merely “on pause” due to COVID-19 measures.
Activist initiatives such as the “Nida22” movement are calling for “a smooth democratic transition that is not monopolized by de facto power while guaranteeing the continuity of the state.” The movement further aims to “to concretize the rule of law, institutions and social justice.”
While such goals don’t appear to conflict with government rhetoric on democracy, they would in reality entail a radical transformation of Algeria’s governance.
Little has changed for many Algerians since the departure of Bouteflika in 2019. Military and business elites continue to rule the country, far removed from democratic processes and accountability. In many ways, the situation is far more dire compared to 2019.
Hirak demands continue
Algeria’s economy has suffered tremendously because of COVID-19. The country’s vital oil industry has struggled to cope with falling oil prices and diminished state revenues have left the country’s leaders without the resources to propose tangible solutions to citizens’ demands.
Meanwhile, living standards have declined, unemployment has increased, and the Hirak movements’ demands appear to be more relevant than ever before.
Karim Younes, one of the mediators between the Hirak movement and the government, told Algerian newspaper Liberte Algerie that Algeria is in a “complex situation with huge stakes and challenges.”
Younes described the country’s elite’s opposition to reform, while painting Tebboune as open to reform. “At high levels of the hierarchy there are still frozen, sectarian minds who always try to undermine the will of the president,” he said.
Amid an economic crisis and a pervasive lack of trust in governance, Algeria’s Hirak anniversary on February 22 will likely highlight Algerians’ lingering dissatisfaction with their country’s democratic and economic prospects.
As such, Nida22 activists such as Seif El Islem Benattia continue to call for “urgent and courageous reforms in the national interest,” while describing the upcoming elections as “not an objective in itself.”