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Illustration by Dhabia AlMansoori

Algerians march in protest of “the power”

On Nov. 1, thousands of Algerians took to the streets of Algiers on the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the war of independence from France.

Nov 9, 2019

On Nov. 1, thousands of Algerians took to the streets of Algiers, marking the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the war of independence from France. The protests, which began on Feb. 22, have occurred every Friday since. They were sparked when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he would be running for a fifth term in office. In response to the protesters and the army — who called for his removal due to concerns about his ability to rule — Bouteflika, the country’s president for 20 years, stepped down on April 2.
However, even after Bouteflika’s resignation, the movement maintained its momentum, as the motivation for the protests was resistance to “le pouvoir”, or “the power.” The term given to the old guard remains intact even with Bouteflika’s departure.
“Algeria has a long history of leftist thought and activism that dates back to its close association to France,” explained Robert Kubinec, Assistant Professor of Political Science at NYU Abu Dhabi. “When people use terms like le pouvoir, what they're saying is that there's a system in society that's capitalist, it’s a connection between government, military and business, and this system perpetuates itself and unless they bring down the entire system, there will be no change.”
This distrust of the institutional powers is one of the notable differences between Algeria’s protests and those of its neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt. As Kubinec described, “In Egypt, the military stepped in pretty soon after the protests started and helped to manage the transition … They were welcomed as heroes ... The Algerians interpret that decision … as the reason Egypt is no longer a democracy today or at least a democracy with competitive elections. So what’s happened now is that the Algerian military has been largely reluctant to repress the protests.”
Referencing the Dec.12 Presidential elections that have become the focus of protests, Kubic explained that “the military is trying to preempt this movement by holding elections and trying to channel their anger into voting, and the protest movement is trying to prevent this from happening.”
“We are entering new territory because this protest movement has lasted so long and the military is going ahead with protests. In previous episodes in the Arab Spring, the protest movement happened, there was a leadership change, there were elections and everyone agreed to that. Here we have the protests, leadership change, there are elections but they’re not legitimate and the protest movements are still on-going. What’s happening is that people are learning, they're learning from each other,” explained Kubinec.
As Dec. 12 draws nearer, there is an increased chance that these proposed elections will not be free and fair and result in virtually no change from the Algeria under Bouteflika.
Kubinec described the source of the conflict as “a battle for legitimacy right now, who is the legitimate ruler of the country, the Algerian military or the social movement.”
As the date of the elections approaches, the world will be watching to see how this historic event for the region will be resolved.
Matthew Gubbins is Deputy News Editor. Email him at
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