Students “conquered” the Kasbah neighborhood in Algiers as disaffected Algerians turn out in the thousands to protest their government.
Rabat – The national “hirak” protest movement is back on the streets despite intense political maneuvering by Algeria’s powerful elite. Police were out in numbers in the capital Algiers as citizens once again rallied to protest their government.
Citizens of Algeria are facing an increasingly desperate outlook. Prices of essential foodstuffs such as cooking oil and chicken are on the rise amid high unemployment and a state without its desperately-need oil revenues.
On the national scale, Algeria is dealing with an outbreak of Bird Flu that caused local poultry prices to increase while Russia announced it would no longer import Algerian chicken. Decreased oil revenues have resulted in a dwindling national foreign currency reserve while the entrenched government faces pervasive public discontent.
Algeria’s government has attempted to use COVID-19 measures as justifications to block public protests, despite a steady decline in daily recorded cases. Algerian health authorities reported 175 new cases of COVID-19 across the country today, although worries remain over the spread of the British mutation of the virus.
With the Algerian dinar struggling, state budgets depleted, and angry citizens on the street, little appears to have changed since the original onset of protests in 2019. Many Algerians demonstrating over the past week have emphasized that they are calling for the same demands as before.
Algerian frustration with its ruling elite, known simply as “the power,” is reaching a fever pitch. The heavy police presence in Algiers did little to dissuade protesters as students used the maze of ancient streets in the city’s old center to avoid police cordons.
The center of Algiers again sounded like a football stadium in the 90th minute of an important match, reminiscent of the 2019 protests. Chants rang through the streets while citizens appeared unafraid to voice their grievances to any television camera in sight.
Cries of “freedom” and “revolution” rang out, as an ever more desperate population hopes to trigger government action to address their concerns.
Whether the peaceful protests can achieve their main goals remains to be seen, as most demand a total overhaul of the government and its entrenched elites.
Algeria’s diminished oil exports mean there are fewer social programs and fewer practical solutions to the people’s problems, while the country’s elite themselves remain highly fractured.
Divisions within traditional clans, power struggles within the military, and an uncharismatic leader provide Algeria’s government with few tools to address public demands.
Activists and journalists
Meanwhile, activists released ahead of the anniversary of Algeria’s hirak have vowed to continue protesting. Prominent journalist and press freedom activist Khaled Drareni yesterday announced on Twitter he has resumed his efforts to promote press freedom, thanking those who supported him during his incarceration.
Some hirak supporters had been jailed since the original protests, with some spending 14 months behind bars, where they were allegedly tortured and exposed to degrading and inhumane treatment.
The Algerian League For The Defense of Human Rights has expressed “deep concern” over tortured hirak activists, many of whom were young students when security forces arrested them in 2019.
Those released from prison ahead of Algeria’s hirak anniversary show that their imprisonment has done anything but subdue them. They continue to call for a complete democratic overthrow of government and now use their experiences in prison to highlight the regime’s brutality.
Meanwhile, dozens of hirak supporters continue to languish in prison with their freed compatriots calling for their release.
While Algeria’s government provided some tokenistic overtures to the hirak ahead of its anniversary, it remains clear it is unwilling to change its approach.
Skepticism prevails in Algeria as many newspapers appear unwilling to spend significant time on an alleged foiled terrorist plot in Algiers and the country’s deep south.
Algeria’s defense ministry had aimed to connect an alleged bomb plot in Algiers to the discovery of a cache of weapons 2,300 kilometers away. The government’s press release on the matter seemed to use the issue to justify the pseudo-military regime and news outlets reacted primarily with disinterest.
What did receive attention is a new law that could prove to be one of Algeria’s most oppressive pieces of hirak-oriented legislation yet.
The government introduced a “nationality law” that aims to punish anyone involved in terrorism or the vaguely defined charge of “harming national unity.” The punishment for such crimes would involve Algeria revoking citizens’ nationality.
The government emphasized that this punishment would only meet the worst offenders, yet many of the jailed activists and journalists were imprisoned on charges of “harming national unity.”
The irony of Algeria’s situation amid the reemergence of hirak protests is that both the country’s elite and its protesters are facing increasing desperation.
Power struggles and infighting have resulted in fragmented loyalties between Algeria’s ruling elite, while the powerless appear to grow ever more united in their common demand for an overhaul of Algeria’s democratic institutions that seeks to unseat “the power.”