On that Friday, February 18, 2022, the numbers were down from the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets of major Algerian cities and villages when the Hirak — which was first launched three years earlier on February 22, 2019 — brought down President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Many analysts believe that Bouteflika’s sultanism, corruption, mismanagement, embezzlement, and crony capitalismduring his two-decade rule were the accelerating factor for the advent of the Hirak (Algerian protest movement).
This return to the streets of Algiers and other cities on the third anniversary of the Hirak, also known as the “Revolution of Smiles,” was met with a heavy police presence. However, these hundreds of protesters intended to show the establishment that the Hirak is still around and that the struggle for change goes on.
It should be pointed out that since 2019, the regime has tried to drive a wedge between the Hirak activists along tribal divides, ethnic lines, regional boundaries, and by pitting Amazigh against Arabs.
Since 2019, the regime has tried to drive a wedge between the Hirak activists.
For Louisa Driss-Haït Hamadouche, a professor of political science at Algiers University, the system (also known as “Le Pouvoir”) will go all out to remain in control. “The Algerian system has a great capacity for resilience and has always relied on three pillars to guarantee its longevity: co-optation, repression, and division,” she says.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s rule has so far been marked by a clampdown on the Hirak. And to add insult to injury, he keeps embalming his decisions as if they were on par with the demands of the movement.
In 2020, rather cynically, President Tebboune declared February 22 — the anniversary of the start of the Hirak — a national holiday to honor “the bond between the people and the army in favor of democracy.”
The Algerian regime has always engaged in repressive and Machiavellian tactics to muzzle both the opposition and the Hirak once and for all. In recent months, Algerian authorities increased their efforts to crack down on opponents, left-wing parties, journalists, civil society activists, academics, and any group advocating for systemic change and democracy.
While hundreds of Algerians are fleeing the country on dinghies, rights groups claim that some 335 people are currently jailed in Algeria because of their links to the Hirak.
However, this number does not reveal the full extent and the intensity of the repression.
On January 28, 40 of these prisoners of conscience began an open hunger strike in the notorious El-Harrach prison near Algiers to denounce their arbitrary detention and the erroneous charges against them.
Many former prisoners have been open about the mistreatment and sexual abuse they endured while in prison.
Many former prisoners have been open about the mistreatment and sexual abuse they endured while in prison. Walid Nekkiche, a young Algerian student, was tortured and sexually assaulted while under arrest.
Other Hirak protesters such as Saïd Chetouane, a minor who was arrested while taking part in the Hirak, were also sexually abused while in police custody.
Kaddour Chouicha, a University of Oran professor and Vice-President of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), also fell victim to torture while incarcerated.
The instrumentalization of the judiciary is another maneuver meant to vilify the popular movement and annihilate any form of dissent.
A case in point is the banning of the Paris-based Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia (MAK), a separatist organization with a handful of followers who seek self-determination for the Kabylia region.
Furthermore, the London-based Rachad group — run by Algerian politicians and intellectuals in exile as well as members of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and other secular parties — has been calling for peaceful regime change in Algeria, and has also been classified as a terrorist organization by the regime.
Those familiar with the configuration of the Algerian regime know that ever since the country’s independence from France in 1962, the state has been established by the military. And it is the army and the Intelligence Services that control political life in the country. They create and ban parties at will. They appoint members of parliament, ministers, mayors, governors, prime ministers, and even presidents.
The Hirak contended with a thorny issue: the role of the army in Algerian politics.
The Hirak did, nonetheless, contend with a thorny issue: the role of the army in Algerian politics. The persistent demand for a civilian-run government is one of the Hirak’s salient demands. And for the authorities, this request is not up for negotiation.
The civil facade the military junta has always tried to uphold is a significant indication that it will continue to exert its hegemony over Algerian politics. Indeed, every ballot has been structured to systematically present the military as the only political player, the arbiter, the opponent, and the ultimate decisionmaker.
All the various measures to face-lift national and local assemblies, including the newly amended constitution, the November 2021 renewal of municipal and provincial councils, and seemingly instigated by President Tebboune, serve the same purpose.
Many analysts believe that the November 2021 elections that enabled the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the Democratic National Rally (RND) to take the lead, will neither alter the autocratic nature of the Algerian regime nor give it any democratic legitimacy. Using democratic processes without bringing about democratic rule makes no sense.
Yet, it is worth asking, how did the FLN and the RND manage to get to the fore of the political scene in less than three years?
Everybody knows how these two political parties seemed to be irremediably condemned during the first months of the Hirak, when millions of Algerians came out to protest their cronyism, their involvement in mismanagement, and connection to various corruption scandals.
These two parties, which were delegitimized by the Hirak in 2019, have eventually reconquered both parliamentary and local assemblies in Algeria, and ultimately helped the regime reengineer its dominance.
The authorities have neither a vision nor a strategy to tackle the multidimensional crisis.
It is obvious that the authorities have neither a vision nor a strategy to tackle the multidimensional crisis which is smothering the country a little more each day, and which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
To uphold their heavy and hegemonic tutelage over the country, state officials and the regime’s beneficiaries of crony capitalism pontificate about “The New Algeria,” while socio-economic and political markers point to the contrary.
The harsh popular repression has temporarily succeeded in stifling the Hirak and progress seems to have been impeded. So, where can the Hirak go from here?
More than ever, the movement is required to maintain its peaceful activism, structure itself, and come up with a credible political program that could be carried out by a legitimate leadership. For without a convincing agenda and strong direction, it is unlikely to see any improvement in Algeria’s system of governance or economic and social conditions.