Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 82-year-old ailing president of Algeria, stepped down after 20 years after giving in to the pressure of the Algerian army, which came as a result of thousands of protesting Algerians asking for his resignation. However, protesters say that Bouteflika's resignation is not enough and the old guard has to go as well.
Algerians have been demanding the departure of the ruling elite for more than two-and-a-half months. "We are fed up with you," or "the system must go," or "down with the system;" banners have been seen in the streets and slogans shouted after Friday prayers. Protesters came together for the 10th consecutive time last week, and the number of people protesting a regime widely seen as corrupt is increasing.
As the protests go on, Algeria's richest businessman and three other billionaires associated with Bouteflika were arrested in an anti-graft investigation, a move by the state meant to placate people. And yet, the demonstrators are still gathering in multiple cities throughout the country, which has been dominated by the ruling elite since its independence from France in 1962. Meanwhile, France, which maintained colonial rule for decades on Algeria, has been following developments in the country silently.
After President Bouteflika's exit on April 2, the Algeria Parliament named a Bouteflika loyalist, 77-year-old Abdelkader Ben Salah, as an interim president in order to calm protesters, and announced that the postponed elections will be held on July 4.
This was not the answer the people expected. The international media that has been reporting from the streets of Algeria recently reported about a banner at a Friday protest, which read, "The B's must go." According to reports, the "B's" refer to interim president Ben Salah, interim Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui and Moad Bouchareb, head of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, as the protesters want radical reforms in the country.
In addition to that, the people are also asking for the resignation of the Algerian army's powerful Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, 80, who intervened when Bouteflika sought a fifth five-year term, declaring him unfit for office and called on him to hand over the presidency. What did the Algerians think when he said he expected members of the ruling elite to be prosecuted for corruption? I bet they didn't buy his words as he has been a member of the same shadowy regime. That is why the protesters are asking for his resignation as well.
Obviously, the regime made a big mistake when they decided to continue with Bouteflika for a fifth term, then took this decision back, made him withdraw his candidacy on March 11, and then made him step down from the current presidency after huge protests by the people of Algeria. The people have become more furious now, and they think that it is the latest trick by the regime. The last protests were targeting the former president's brother, Said Bouteflika, according to the reports. People want to see him put on trial, accusing him of being the "leader of the gang."
So, the genie is out of the bottle. But what will happen in the near future of Algeria? Will either the shadowy regime or the Algerian people step back? Or will neither of them retreat?
The developments in question are so important and historical for the people of Algeria, who seek democracy and freedom, but the uncertainty about what the regime will do is raising concerns. It is noteworthy that the protests that have been going on for weeks are peaceful, and they are coming from the people's base. They have not been led by an organization or any opposition leader or figure, and that makes me refer to the protesters as "the people." Of course, the increasing number of people on the streets makes the opposition parties and organizations excited and encourage them to join the protests; however, the current economic situation along with long-time structural problems are what triggered the common people's fury in the first place.
On the other hand, as it is known, the military is a central actor and has been highly involved in the country's politics since its independence. The Armee de Liberation Nationale (the National Liberation Army), or ALN, had played a historical role in defeating the French and gaining independence. That is why its symbolic stance for the country's national identity cannot be overlooked. However, it has become the scary old guard of Algeria. Due to the power it has, it has chosen or removed every president in Algeria since 1962.
After the Front Islamique de Salut (Islamic Salvation Front) won the regional and municipal elections, the army canceled the legislative elections in 1992 and that resulted in a devastating civil war between the state apparatus including the army and the so-called Islamists. The civil war that lasted almost a decade caused the deaths of more than 200,000 Algerians. Since the civil war is still fresh in the memories of the people, they would like to avoid such a bloody end and try to continue the protests as peacefully as they can by just accusing the FLN elite responsible for the economic and social problems. However, will the old guard give them what they want and leave easily? The security forces have intervened in protests and some protesters were injured as the police used tear gas and water cannons. And yet, the intervention has not become as violent as the ones during the Arab Spring.
The FLN, that ended 130 years of French colonialism, has been ruling the country since Algeria declared independence. The FLN leaders who resisted French forces in the mountains during the anti-colonial war period, became either generals or leaders of the FLN after the war. Ahmed Bin Bella, a socialist soldier and a revolutionary, had served as the first president of the country. But when Bin Bella wanted to move to a pluralist order to establish a connection between the ideology of the National Liberation and the Algerian people, whose religious sentiments were visibly high, he was ousted in the second year of his duty by a military coup led by Houari Boumediene, and a new era began in Algeria. During the 16-year period of Boumediene, who followed a populist policy as the second president of the country, there was no serious friction between the regime and the people.
In the order established by Boumediene, the army and the intelligence service formed two basic pillars of the regime. After Boumediene died in 1979, the army and the intelligence service, the backbones of the state according to him, became more influential in the country's politics. During the '80s, the revolts for a transition to a pluralist system were suppressed by the two, sometimes using violent methods or political maneuvers. As a result, the army and the intelligence service allowed many parties to be involved in politics, however, the FLN always maintained its power. As a matter of fact, Bouteflika's presidency was a result of the civil war. During his rule, he strengthened his position and played well without colliding with the army and the intelligence service, while at the same time gaining popularity in political and elite circles.
Now, after the counterrevolutions and coups and civil wars have replaced the peaceful protests of the Arab Spring and hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Middle East and North Africa, Algeria is one of the countries where people have once again dared to demand freedom and a change of regime. Will the regime of the country leave and let the people gain their freedom, or will it increase its pressure on the people in order to make them stop – as we saw in Egypt and Syria. How will the people act? Will they be scared away or continue to ask for their rights? Or will we see the involvement of foreign countries such as France, which will further complicate things? I guess the answer is hidden in the question of which side learned the better lesson from the so-called Arab Spring and Arab Winter.