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Protesters in Algiers, Algeria on 3/22/2019 © Saddek Hamlaoui / Shutterstock

An Uncertain Future for Algeria, But It’s Not Alone

Protesters in Algeria have achieved what appeared to be their principal goal, but there’s definitely more to come. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary explains.

Describing the situation in Algeria, where President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has now resigned after he initially promised to leave by the end of the month, Le Monde reports: “[T]he formation of the government … gives an appearance of movement whereas the regime, contested for the past six weeks by protests on an unparalleled scale, is paralyzed by the struggle opposing the head of the army and the presidential clan.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Appearance of movement:

An optical illusion that is part of the basic skillset of all establishment politicians permitting them to react to deep crises with superficial actions intended to demonstrate — but not to effectuate — their commitment to change 

Contextual note

For 20 years, Algerians were resigned to submissively accepting and obeying a regime that offered a minimum of stability. The generation that had grown up without the ever-present fear of terrorist incidents in their towns and villages began to imagine what a society might be like that could effectively profit and grow its economy thanks to its natural riches — oil and gas — rather than simply trust the governmental clan to keep things on an even, immobile keel. Al Jazeera describes the ambition of the protesters who want “a new generation of leaders to replace a ruling elite seen by many ordinary Algerians as out of touch and unable to jump-start a faltering economy hampered by cronyism.”

Algerians reacted to Bouteflika’s offer to resign by April 28 by calling it — in the words of one female undergraduate student at Algiers School of Architecture — a “small victory.” Nothing will have been achieved “if Bouteflika resigns while the old guard remains after April 28,” she told Al Jazeera. The protesters intend to continue the peaceful demonstrations until the entire ruling clan is replaced.

Historical note

Stirrings of revolt against a fifth term for President Bouteflika had begun even before the beginning of the year. The first major demonstration took place in February, though the date of the election had not yet been announced. When, on March 3, the government indicated that the totally incapacitated Bouteflika would run for a fifth term, student protesters began to organize in earnest. Within weeks, they were gaining force and attracting a wider range of participants than those who had initiated the movement. As the pressure increased, the Algerian government decided to move the dates of the spring vacation forward in the hope of dispersing the students. By that time, not only were the students committed to seeing the protest through, but more and more older citizens and professionals joined the movement.

Bouteflika had already called for the postponement of the election initially scheduled for April 18. But while promising not to run again, he indicated his intention to remain in power during the transition period, which had no time limit, indicating that it would likely take a year to consult on a new constitution.

None of the moves or promises had the impact intended of calming the almost uniformly peaceful revolt. Everyone understood that the responsibility for some violent clashes at the beginning of March, in which seven people were injured and the son of Algeria’s first prime minister after independence died, belonged  with “the ruling gang and its thugs.”

When every attempt to appease the movement failed, the government finally decided to offer what the protesters were clamoring for: Bouteflika’s resignation. Which is where we stand today as the protesters digest their “small victory” and prepare for the next phase of the showdown.

Some observers have noticed a curious parallel between the Algerian situation and the drama of the yellow vests in France. In both cases, the crowd has demanded the resignation of the president. In both cases, there is no clear proposal for a future mode of government. In both cases, there is a political class that has the habit of running the operations of government, though French President Emmanuel Macron came in by ousting the discredited parties that had alternately shared power for 60 years. Still, he was clearly a product of the system and knew its workings, which encouraged him to feel he had the ability to centralize control in his own hands, unencumbered by the traditional right and left.

There’s another curious parallel in the current situation, this time with the United Kingdom. Both Algeria and the UK, through their immobility and incapacity to make decisions, have painted themselves into a corner of history. Nobody knows where either will end up and, whereas in the case of Algeria it may be a mirage in the desert and of the UK a pea-soup fog on the Thames, some believe they can see a cliff edge.

In the UK, something has to give by April 12 with Brexit. In Algeria, Abdelkader Bensalah, the current speaker of the upper house of parliament, will, according to the constitution, become the interim leader for a maximum of 90 days. What happens after those two dates is anyone’s guess. But after 20 years of immobility in Algeria (if not 60) and nearly three years of immobility and indecision in the UK, something is going to have to give.

As for France, it’s a waiting game, as the yellow vests have discovered the most powerful arm to disturb a well-entrenched government: patience. It has already begun to seriously get on Macron’s nerves.

[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.