The Arab Spring has marked a revival in liberation movements across the world and the dethronements of dictatorial leaders like Ben Ali served as a reminder to oppressed nations that the power lies with the people. This wave of uprisings which swept across the Arab world left many wondering whether Algeria was next. The on-going attempt to paint the relative social contexts with the same brush has prevented a realistic expectation or understanding of Algeria’s circumstances.
Many remain unaware that Algeria was in fact witness to similar anti-government revolts in the late 80s when the population rose against the totalitarian single-party regime which also enforced systematic cultural suppression through various policies. A 10-year civil war between the FIS (Front Islamique du Salut/Islamic salvation front) and the state followed the October uprisings of 88 and the hope for a democratically reformed nation was extinguished with the difficult years of terror which proceeded.
The various national riots that have taken place more recently (from December 2010) over the inflated food prices and later concerning the poor living conditions, state censorship and corruption, were an indication to the wider world that Algerians were joining the Tunisians and Egyptians in revolt. This was not the case. On the 12th of February it was reported that Algerians had commenced their own revolution after having been inspired by the Egyptian success story. There were high hopes, particularly from the West as the Algerian community in France had also taken to the streets of Paris, Marseille and Lyon in support of the Anti-Bouteflika sentiments.
These views soon changed as the state police exerted its force on the Algerian protestors through physical violence and countless arrests according to La Ligue algérienne de défense des droits de l’homme (LADDH). For most Algerians, there is no doubt that the military runs the show, and it came as no surprise that on this day 30,000 policemen were patrolling the streets in the capital city. Their instant mobilisation and suppression of anti-government action has historically demonstrated to the people that such efforts would amount to very little as long as this control is exercised. Even after the President lifted the extensive 19-year state of emergency in February, the people’s opinions did not change and this was seen as yet another empty gesture to feed Western media and present the illusion that reforms were underway.
Regardless of the fact that most Algerians recognise the habitual hogra maintained by the state and namely its security forces, the 2010/11 riots received negative backlash from the majority of the population who were more concerned with damages that were made to family-owned businesses and the violence which took place. Protestors did not gain the support of the masses. In addition, the civil war remains a fresh wound and the Algerians have expressed that the last thing they desire is a repeat of any bloodshed. Their history was an indication that social conflict or any weakening of the state could mean the return of fundamentalist Islamist groups who are said to be regrouping particularly in the Southern region of the country. It is this fear that guides the people against any revolutionary activities.
The absence of a clear, collective, political direction is an attributing factor to the lack of mass mobilisation or participation in the protests. With various small-scale groups ranging from Feminists to Kabyle secularists, each rallying for their specific agendas, the wider population has not found a strong democratically representative alternative and this has left many questioning whether Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 12-year presidency should necessarily be toppled. The extortionate food prices were a wide-spread issue, but other social crises such as the policies affecting freedom of speech in the media continue to be viewed as a primary concern for journalists. In addition, poor salaries for teachers and staff remain a battle for those working within the education sectors. A collective consciousness or desire for change appears to be non-existent.
Long gone are the days of active liberation movements and the legacy of the FLN during the war of independence has remained a thing of the past. The Algerian people do not wish to gamble their bearable stability as long as the reappearance of an Al-Qaeda-inspired movement is a possibility and as long as the masses remain without a clear political agenda which would be nationally supported. The current regime also remains confident that if any uprisings were to commence, a payoff would immediately bring social peace.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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