Last week, I had the opportunity to write an article about the social outcry concerning a fifth mandate for Abdelaziz Bouteflika. I did not expect the social uprising in Algeria to reach such degrees of participation and resilience. Bouteflika has been extremely ill and unable to speak or make public appearances since 2013. For the time being, he is hospitalized in Switzerland, and nobody knows if he will ever be able to return to Algeria alive. In that sense, asking the Algerian population to endure a fifth term presidency of an inexistent president was the last straw. The population, very young and in search of inspiration, a viable perspective, reacted very violently. Manifestations are taking place in almost every town.
For the first time in 20 years, a night manifestation took place in the capital Algiers. Other big cities like Oran and Constantine are also in ebullition.
The National Liberation Front (FLN) in power is a perfect textbook example of a revolutionary movement that turned into something both conservative and corrupt. The only ideology of the political power in Algeria, especially after the terrible years of civil strife, is to keep the power. The Algerian army plays a very important role in keeping the FLN in power. The external relations of the country have never been very peaceful. The untold war with Morocco, through the Polisario resistance in former Spanish Sahara, has never totally disappeared. With Libya, the relations have always been tense under Moammar Gadhafi and since his demise, it has gotten worse because there is no central power to speak of in Libya. Tunisia-Algerian relations are similar to those of Turkey and Greece, almost an institutionalized rivalry.
So long as Algeria remains unstable, so long as there is no transparent and sustainable democratic regime, the Maghreb will not have a peaceful perspective. It is time to remember an outstanding social scientist, professor Julien Freund, who taught for decades at the University of Strasbourg. He said in one of his conferences that Africa had three centers of gravity, made up of three giant countries. Algeria in the north, former Zaire and today's Democratic Republic of Congo, at the center and South Africa in the south. The stability of this immense continent is dependent on these three major powers.
Developments seem to give a good reason in Freund's analysis. Egypt, Nigeria and Ethiopia can also be added to this essential equilibrium. However, one thing is for sure: Algeria remains of prime importance, not for its population, but for the entire North Africa up to the southern borders of the Sahara desert. Without Algerian help, the situation in Mali will continue to remain inextricable between the north and the south of the country. This is just an example among many others.
Against the general outcry of the population, the government has tried to stay somehow flexible by making promises. According to the Algerian Constitution, a candidate for the presidential post should present his or her application documents in person. Well, this was impossible in Bouteflika's case, so his camp
aign director Abdelghani Zaalane had to deliver the application. This was seen as an ultimate offense by a population, very young and very disappointed by the governance, who revolted almost without any preparation or any political organization.
The promises made by the government, conveyed through Al Moujahid, the official media outlet of the ruling party, are at best shallow. The president promises a "shortened" term, a change of the Constitution that would be decided by a "National Conference," with the participation of different representatives of Algerian society.
Nobody understands why a "constitutional change" has to be done after electing a very ill person who is obviously incapable of fulfilling the duties of a president. The general feeling is that the government tries to buy time, hoping that manifestations will disappear after an initial outburst. For the time being, despite a very impressive security system in place, meetings did not give way to clashes between the security forces and protestors. There is no acceptable political way out for the time being, and the incapacity of the government to offer a compromise candidate does not bode well for the future.
There is also this "tradition" of incriminating France for every other problem in Algeria. This time, France is being deeply criticized by the opposition for having been too supportive of the government. This conflicting duality between an ex-colonial power and its former colony does not help calm the political issues. The situation in Algeria is evolving in a dangerous direction; maybe there is still some hope among the ruling circles, a certain common sense to pull back and offer a more acceptable candidacy. Otherwise, things could get out of hand very quickly. This will not benefit any involved party.