Could the coronavirus pandemic cure Algeria's crisis?

There is no doubt that the declared truce in Algeria will be a test for the ruling regime.
Sunday 22/03/2020
Abdelaziz Rahabi, former Algerian minister and coordinator of the management body of the National Forum for Dialogue speaks during the National Forum for Dialogue in Algiers, Algeria, July 6, 2019. (DPA)
Abdelaziz Rahabi, former Algerian minister and coordinator of the management body of the National Forum for Dialogue speaks during the National Forum for Dialogue in Algiers, Algeria, July 6, 2019. (DPA)

The coronavirus pandemic provided a valuable opportunity for political opportunists in Algeria to jump on the bandwagon of patriotism.

Their goal was to reappear on the national political scene by exploiting official media platforms and social media to present themselves as concerned guides. What they seemed to forget was that many of them are partially responsible for Algeria's failure to build a national health system capable of swift and effective reactions in the face of major health catastrophes.

One of the figures is former Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Rahabi, who claimed the popular demonstrations represent a threat to the national health security and called for stopping them, considering such a move a “national duty to preserve the safety of Algerians from the coronavirus.”

An examination of Rahabi's statement, and similar statements by former and current officials in Algeria’s ruling regime, shows these people are simply jumping, as usual, on the events. Their statements contain no hint of frank and courageous self-criticism or of any criticism of their former policies nor do they mention the responsibility of current Algerian authorities in letting the coronavirus pandemic reach Algerian territory by failing to take preventive measures, especially after the declaration of the pandemic nature of the infection by the World Health Organisation.

There was no mention of the authorities’ failure to create crisis-management cells in the country’s administration or to establish specialised official and civil society teams that would coordinate efforts in following up on the infection at the national level and collectively and urgently take needed decisions.

At the top of those decisions would be to institute appropriate measures to deal with the arrival of travellers from affected countries, as well as sealing off the country’s borders soon after the appearance of the pandemic in China, France and Italy.

From this point of view, the facts refute the claim that the popular movement caused the spread of the infection to many parts of Algeria.

The fact is that the movement activists, regardless of age or affiliation, have demonstrated, since the emergence of the coronavirus, a true understanding of the seriousness of the infection and stressed their support for the national interest by temporarily suspending demonstrations until the deadly virus is eliminated.

By taking such a decision, the protesters and the opposition demonstrated a high sense of national duty and civic ethics. They know how to distinguish between political activism and opposing the policies of the ruling regime and committing to safeguarding the health security of 45 million citizens.

The measure announced by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune “to cease all rallies and marches of whatever form and under whatever title and to close any place suspected of being infected by the epidemic” was directed mainly at the popular movement.

Observers said there was no need for such a measure because the movement had voluntarily implemented a freeze on its gatherings until further notice. Besides the fact that Tebboune’s action is inconsistent with the constitution, which guarantees the popular movement’s right to demonstrate. The movement could have continued its public demonstrations if it wanted to.

Activists of the popular movement have repeatedly declared that demonstrations are only one of the many other forms of struggle to achieve the movement’s demand and, in the current context of events, the opposition to the ruling regime will continue through social media and by deepening interaction with citizens and addressing their concerns, including the threat of the coronavirus.

“It is time to temporarily step out of the geographical context and still remain in the historical context,” one activist said. “The movement that came out to save the nation will not be the cause of the destruction of its people.”

There is no doubt that the declared truce in Algeria will be a test for the ruling regime. If the regime uses the truce to delay engaging in serious dialogue with the opposition, including the popular movement, the Algerian crisis is bound to worsen once the spectre of the coronavirus is removed.