Algeria’s battle of the wills

In the eyes of Gaid Salah, dialogue means maintaining order but, for most Algerians, the content of this dialogue should concern how to bury the regime and build a more modern and just system.
Sunday 23/06/2019
Opposite forces. Police officers prevent demonstrators from marching during a May Day protest on Labour Day in Algiers, May 1. (Reuters)
Opposite forces. Police officers prevent demonstrators from marching during a May Day protest on Labour Day in Algiers, May 1. (Reuters)

In the history of Algeria, as in the history of other countries, no government can totally disappear and its cabinet ministers slip into complete secrecy. They are pursued and hunted down by citizens wherever they happened to be. Algerian pilgrims in Mecca chased Prime Minister Noureddine Badawi even as he was performing umrah rites.

Very often ministers escape through back doors under the pressure of a chase if the ministers dared to venture out of their offices to visit an institution here or introduce a project there.

The divorce between the regime and the Algerian people has been going on for a long time, as manifested by a majority of the citizens choosing to boycott various previous election events and not reacting to initiatives from those they consider gangsters who have usurped power.

Although successive interior ministers officially admitted that non-voters made up about 60% of the electorate, we suspect the ratio was much higher.

Up to February 22, the popular resistance in Algeria was passive or hidden but not today. Today, it is in the streets, defying the regime and declaring a break with it.

Hence, the difficulty of dialogue between the two parties because no honest Algerian citizen trusts the men of the regime or those who gravitate around them. In that citizen’s mind, the regime is old news and completely wiped out.

For three decades, young people in Algeria took advantage of football games and their crowds to chant anti-government slogans. However, what happened during the Algeria Cup final this year was extraordinary.

Even their consuming love for the game could not overcome their hatred for the regime. Fans from both teams — Bejaia and Belouizdad — were not satisfied with just booing some officials, such as the minister of Sport and the president of the Algerian Football Federation, but broke into the official VIP section and expelled them both, along with officials who were with them.

What are the implications of this fear of confronting citizens? Is it possible to establish a dialogue between the army, the sole representative of the regime today, and the people who totally reject this regime?

In fact, in the speeches of the army’s Chief-of-Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah since the beginning of the uprising, there was no indication that he understood that the regime he represented was finished in the eyes of the Algerian people because it was a regime that had done nothing for them and only ruined and looted the country.

His self-interested adherence to certain articles of the dead constitution indicates that Gaid Salah needs a radical intellectual makeover to accept that he should be the one listening to the people and not vice versa.

While in the eyes of Gaid Salah, dialogue means maintaining order. For most Algerians, the content of this dialogue, if it exists at all, should concern how to bury the regime and build a more modern and just system. Most agree that there is no dialogue with the current regime except to negotiate its departure.

It is obvious that Gaid Salah’s attempt to shake the protesters’ unity by throwing some former government officials into prison will not work because the protesters are not out for revenge but want to build a state of citizenship and rights.

They totally reject any attempt to confiscate their will by force. So, we have two wills and two parallel visions that will never meet.

Can those who want to save the regime win or should the winner be those who want Algeria’s salvation?

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