Mass protests ahead of elections: Algeria rebels

Algeria is experiencing its largest wave of protests in decades. Since its ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced at the beginning of February that he was running for election again in April, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets all over the country to protest his candidacy for a fifth term in office. With good reason, commentators find.

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Der Standard (AT) /

The facade is crumbling

The elections set for April in Algeria should be postponed, Der Standard explains:

“Too many Algerians are unwilling to accept another term of office for the long-time and long-ailing president. Bouteflika serves as a facade for an obscure system that is governed by invisibles - his clan, members of the military, business people. But this facade is crumbling. ... The men behind Bouteflika now have a small window of time to save their beloved stability. The elections planned for 18 April must be postponed and revised. The other political forces should help in this process - and not least the demonstrators who will have to wait a few weeks more for the end of the Bouteflika era.”

La Croix (FR) /

The country has become politically mature

It's encouraging that both the demonstrators and the state leadership have remained peaceful but now the president must answer the protesters' demands, La Croix puts in:

“Critical of the lack of transparency and the small clique at the head of the state, Algerians of all ages are calling for change. More than a half a century after gaining its independence the country has acquired a political maturity and is seeking a truly democratic path to development. For Bouteflika, who negotiated the Civil Concord [which put an end to the civil war and granted clemency to Islamist fighters] 20 years ago, it would be a remarkable crowning of his career if he let the hopes of the young generation be heard.”

Ukrayinska Pravda (UA) /

A spark is all it takes

Many possible events could trigger a spiral of violence in Algeria, warns Ukrayinska Pravda:

“The death of protesters, the arrest of the opposition leaders, the spreading of information about the [ill] health of the president. ... In this case Algeria could take the dangerous path of a conflict that could escalate into a real war with the participation of regional and global players. ... But under pressure from the street (and if France puts its weight behind that pressure) and for fear of a war the generals may give in: replace Bouteflika with another candidate, postpone the election, let an opposition candidate (from the system opposition) win. ... At any rate 2019 will be decisive for Algeria's future.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Bouteflika's candidacy is a provocation

In a letter purportedly written in a hospital in Geneva, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has announced reforms and offered to step down and call early elections after a year if he is re-elected. The letter stands little chance of calming the situation, comments Northern Africa correspondent Stefan Ehlert in Deutschlandfunk:

“My impression is more that the leaders in Algeria are trying to escalate the situation so that the army seizes power. Or is forced to seize power, as the officers will then claim. Like in Egypt, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other states - there's no lack of bad examples. Because the reform promises boil down to measures the opposition has long been calling for. Although the regime has ignored their key demand: that after 20 years in power Bouteflika won't run again. Sending him into the race once again would no doubt be seen as a provocation by many Algerians. And rightly so.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Not the man to lead Algeria into the future

Bouteflika's days in power are definitely over, El Mundo concurs:

“Algeria is a powder keg on the verge of exploding. ... The younger generations have lost their fear and are demanding the removal of a man who, although he helped to create stability in the country after a bloody phase, did not open the doors to democracy. At 82 Bouteflika, having disappeared from the public stage entirely since 2012 due to poor health, cannot be the leader of a country anxious for reforms and above all freedom. His decision [to run again for election] is proof of his inflexible autocracy, of the fact that he never intended to lead a proper transition but only to profit from a corrupt system through repressive power structures.”

France Inter (FR) /

Army following Egytian example

Anthony Bellanger, columnist for the radio broadcaster France Inter, sees parallels to Egypt:

“As in Egypt, the army shares part of the power. ... In 2011 the Egyptian army didn't shoot at the crowds who demanded Hosni Mubarak's departure. They let the government collapse so that the Egyptians would wear themselves out in revolt and hardship. In the process it lost not even a barracks or a factory, and in the end it raked in the winnings. That's probably what the Algerian army and security forces have in mind: to refrain from shooting at the people so as not to alienate them, to keep open the possibility of toppling the embarrassing Bouteflika clan but to preserve its interests. In a nutshell: 'To die perhaps, but to surrender the money, never!”