The questions raised by Algeria's youth uprising

This deep and complex frustration has been felt by Algeria's youth for many years, beginning in the years that brought about the Black Decade.
Tuesday 19/03/2019
A teacher holds a placard during a protest in Algiers, March 13, 2019. (AP)
Furious youth. A teacher holds a placard during a protest in Algiers, March 13, 2019. (AP)

Political observers say the popular movement in Algeria puts Algerians face to face with many intertwined questions, including the opposition's failure for more than 20 years to go beyond the backward political culture that has prevailed in the country since the end of the French occupation.

In reality, the uprising and peaceful protests represent a spontaneous rejection of the formal opposition that had abandoned the Algerian people and left them struggling on their own against socio-economic crises, cultural stagnation and intellectual poverty.

This movement is an important step towards the liberation from the traditional and mummified political structure that is arrogantly imposed by Algerian authorities. It is this same structure that is being reproduced by the opposition, an opposition that was created by the regime to contain revolts by the Algerian people on several occasions.

There is a serious issue with this popular movement. It has to do with the infiltration of well-known opportunists into the national sphere. Their tactics are malicious. They bring in well-known figures from Algeria’s struggle for independence and use them as Trojan horses in the popular youth demonstrations to pass for a patriotic opposition with clean hands.

Algerians were surprised, for example, to see that people known for their loyalty to the generals demonstrating side by side with symbols of the Algerian National Liberation Front, such as Djamila Bouhired and Zohra Drif.

It is well-known that the generals played a pivotal role in cancelling the country's first transparent multiparty elections in 1991. Those people were known for their tyranny during the Black Decade. Moreover, those who infiltrated the youthful demonstrations were previously appointed by the same generals to political and parliamentary positions.

Yet another important issue is the designation of the term “revolution” in connection with the protests of February 22 in Algeria. Those protests were aimed at stopping Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term. Bouteflika had proceeded to prolong the terms of presidency for himself for an indefinite period.

Does preventing Bouteflika from securing a fifth term amount to a revolution or is it just a positive national movement aimed at expressing the socioeconomic grievances suffered by young Algerians?

This deep and complex frustration has been felt by Algeria's youth for many years, beginning in the years that brought about the Black Decade.

Has this popular movement destroyed the cultural and political structure that generated the autocratic rule of the same individual or of the same clan or of the same regional clique?

Why were the slogans confined to a call for a Second Republic? Note here that the use of “Second Republic” is an obvious attempt to mimic French heritage. In fact, Algeria never severed ties with French colonialism and failed miserably to establish a modern society on which to base a democratic state.

Algerian authorities’ -- mainly Bouteflika’s -- decision to dismiss Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia was a purely tactical move to contain popular anger. Ouyahia was replaced by two figures from within the regime and who are considered part of the structural backwardness imposed by the old guard at the central level and in the regions and rural areas.

What is worse is that these two figures, along with many others who will soon be imposed by the regime, are individuals who embody the totalitarian and backward cultural and intellectual aspects that caused the current crisis.

In such a complex situation, serious questions arise: Who has impeded the emergence of new political and ideological figures from the popular movement and who could shoulder the responsibility of developing a blueprint for a modern alternative to the current Algerian state?

Is this popular movement capable of leading to a complete change of the existing political system that derives its legitimacy from the continued dominance of the old backward political culture and by unleashing a wild form of capitalism on the Algerian people, which is responsible for drowning Algerian society in socio-economic exploitation and political tyranny?