The Algerians seem determined not to leave the streets as protests continue two weeks in with a demand for a change in government.
At the beginning of the protests, the main demand by the crowd was for Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to withdraw his bid for a fifth presidential term, as other than his age, he also has apparent physical problems. However soon after, protesters started demanding comprehensive change, from political administration to economics. The Algerian army made a statement after extended demonstrations saying it would intervene to prevent bloodshed.
Algeria's army chief, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, in a statement on Tuesday, pledged to guarantee the country's security, recalling the "painful years" of civil war. He added that his country's success in "eradicating terrorism has displeased some parties who are upset to see Algeria stable and safe."
It was observed that the army was not willing to intervene in the incidents immediately and was waiting for the results of the elections. However, the speech by the army chief indicated that there was a possibility that the army would become an actor in case demonstrations turned deadly. The question is whether the army will stay with Bouteflika or back the people's demands for a change.
In response to the protests, the ailing president issued six commitments: A National Conference debate to be held after elections on political, institutional, economic and social reforms; a referendum on a new Constitution; the implementation of public policies guaranteeing a fairer redistribution of national wealth and the elimination of marginalization and social exclusion; adoption of new policies focusing on the economic and social development of Algeria's youth population; revisions of Algeria's electoral laws, including the creation of an independent election body and the organization of an early presidential election.
It was understood from the last point that he would not bid for the presidency for a sixth time.
Returning to the "painful years" is the biggest fear in Algeria, which has witnessed a bloody civil war and unrest for more than a decade. Moreover, the Islamist parties, which rejected Bouteflika's rule were out on the streets in the last elections and during the Arab Spring. Yet, the main motivation of the protesters seems not to be ideological but economic. According to the Heritage Foundation's economy index, the Algerian economy is ranked at 171 in the world. While statism continues to dominate politics with some small changes since independence from France in 1962, free market policies for ameliorating the economy or meeting the needs of people remain limited. Moreover, a global decrease in oil prices has hampered the country's economy as oil is one of its main sources of revenue. In line with decreasing oil prices and a worsening economy the unemployment rate has significantly increased in the last few years.
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