When younger generations lose satisfaction with their respective governments, it often sparks chain-reaction political movements. The catalyst tends to be “aged,” out-of-touch leadership, failing to meet the eminent needs of their constituents. The Arab Spring began just this way in 2011 in Tunisia, later spreading to Egypt and beyond. Now, eight years later, the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria is undergoing a bottom-up revolution of its own. However, the current void of political power is being filled by the military; an unfavorable institution to lead the country as the face of the Algerian government.
Algerian protestors began taking to the streets in Spring 2019 when (now former) President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his plan to run for a fifth term in office. The originally planned April 2019 election had the potential to grant Bouteflika a fifth term in office, extending his two-decade-long run. However, at age 82, Bouteflika’s gradually deteriorating health resulted in military generals exercising more governing power. The military’s increased political role helped spark uprisings throughout the country, resulting in Bouteflika’s resignation.
While Bouteflika’s election announcement sparked a public outcry, Algeria’s protests were long in the making, given Bouteflika’s deteriorating reputation over the past 20 years. In 2018, Bouteflika dismissed General Abdelghani Hamel’s, a high-ranking security official, bid to run for president in the upcoming election. Hamel, a perceived confidant of Bouteflika, was blindsided by his dismissal, and Bouteflika’s decision made it clear his plan to remain in office. Bouteflika’s consistent political threats did not bode well with Algerians. Rather, Bouteflika’s image became increasingly scandalous, as conniving acts came to light involving his relations with wealthy elites. At the same time, Algerians were growing increasingly concerned about the country’s widening socio-economic gap with little job security or pay equity for the poor, yet protection for the elite.
The lack of leadership in Algeria today has led to an unstable political environment, weakening the structure of the state. Additionally, the door has opened for manipulation of public discourse. Algerian protestors are characterized as vicious and chaotic—words not reflective of the organized, non-violent movements underway throughout the country. Security threats have allegedly risen since the start of the street protests in the nation’s capital of Algiers. Threats are said to derive from armed religious groups in the region; however, there is neither citing nor record of such pending “threats.” The true threat facing the general public is the power battle ensuing.
Today, demonstrators are met with military intimidation and at times, force, calling into question the reshaping of power dynamics in the country. Peter Ackerman and Maciej Bartkowski from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict stated, “After the initial round of soul searching, in the years that followed Arab Spring, the discussion progressively shifted toward criticism that nonviolent revolutions failed to bring about sustained positive change and, instead, after their victories, left a power vacuum that was quickly filled by people with arms.” This very trend is threatening Algeria’s democratic future with military officers seizing power of the state, bringing Algeria closer to military dictatorship. An appropriate change of direction would reflect a restructured civilian government addressing the interests of disenfranchised communities.
With the postponement of presidential elections, the future of Algerian politics is reshaping in real time; as is the threat of military control. “Power coming from the people” is a notion many Algerians believe has not been properly fulfilled in their democratic republic. What is needed is a fully transparent, inclusive dialogue between civil-society leaders, government officials, political groups and humanitarian organizations. Currently at the grassroots level, action through peace talks and rallying continues to support needed efforts to enforce nationwide change. Though the rate of progress remains unpredictable as the movement gains further international attention. Albeit, while the presidential election postponement excited the masses, it has not deterred demonstrators from the longer mission to create a “new Algeria.”