A “ghost” president had been reigning over Algeria in February 2019, or so demonstrators said when they took to the streets.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, like a phantom, had been elusive for years, rarely appearing in public. Officials had taken to propping up his framed image at the scores of events he was too sickly to attend. When he submitted a bid for his fifth term, Algerians rose up. So began the Hirak movement; the ongoing, peaceful mass protests urging reform in Algeria.
It has been almost a year since Hirak began. In April, Bouteflika announced his resignation, yielding to the demands of protesters who saw his rule as a symbol of the puppetry of Algerian politics. And since then, the demonstrations have sunken out of global headlines. Some writers, particularly in the west, have dismissed Hirak as a failed revolution; one with weakly-outlined goals, that has provoked only incremental change.
On January 15, student demonstrators marched through the streets of Algiers, hoisting up a banner with 14 demands.
Yet Algeria’s protests are continuing with force — and they are being refocused and redefined. On January 15, student demonstrators marched through the streets of Algiers, hoisting up a banner with 14 demands — for the first time, according to local news outlets.
Protesters say the demands make it clear that the Hirak movement is armed with a real vision for its future and must be taken seriously — even as Algeria’s new government is moving to contain and undermine the movement.
Algeria’s youth have shaped the trajectory of Hirak from the beginning. The majority of Algerians are under 30 and they are disaffected; most deeply distrust the current regime and its rampant corruption. Youth unemployment has increased steadily over the last decade, ushering in pervasive economic anxiety.
Hirak demonstrators span generations, but there is no doubt that the disenchantment and frustration of young Algerians has propelled the movement forward. It has been building for years; Bouteflika’s election bid was merely the long-awaited trigger that let the frustration boil over.
For 49 consecutive Tuesdays, Algerian student activists have gathered braving detention, imprisonment, and violence from authorities.
University students in particular have played a key role. Since February, Hirak protesters have taken to the streets each Tuesday and Friday. Tuesday, though, is the day of student protests; for 49 consecutive Tuesdays, Algerian student activists have gathered — braving detention, imprisonment, and violence from authorities. It was on the 47th Tuesday that students unveiled their new demands.
The demands are detailed and extensive, cutting past the platitudes that some say have characterized the Hirak protests. Green and red text fills the banner, which is big enough to sprawl across the shoulders of a dozen protesters. The first three demands are the simplest: a “negotiated democratic transition,” an easing back of restrictions on speech and media, and a true separation of powers.
The demands go on to outline specific clauses of Algeria’s electoral laws and urge revisions. They call for the dissolution of both chambers of Algeria’s parliament — as well as both the National Liberation Front and Democratic National Rally, two major political parties. Public trials must return, they say, and military power must be undercut.
As protesters find better ways to articulate their pleas — and Hirak continues to outlive expectations — Algeria’s future is further plunged into uncertainty.
Algerian students want ambitious, sweeping change; that much is clear. But as protesters find better ways to articulate their pleas — and Hirak continues to outlive expectations — Algeria’s future is further plunged into uncertainty.
The past few months have already been fraught with concern. In December, former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected president. Tebboune, well-entrenched in Algeria’s political arena, promised dialogue with Hirak leaders upon election, but has so far done little to quell skepticism among the opposition, which sees him as a stooge of the system they want overhauled.
Tebboune’s victory was, within weeks, followed by the death of army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who had served as Algeria’s de facto ruler up until the December elections. Though Salah was hardly a celebrated figure among the opposition, the power vacuum he left behind — filled, for now, by successor Saïd Chengriha — raises consequential questions for the future of Algeria’s military.
Yet none of these names — not Salah, not Tebboune, not Chengriha — appear in that list of demands flown on January 15. Rather, the demonstrators have succeeded in divorcing the Hirak movement from the face of any one oligarch.
Hirak’s persistence through Bouteflika’s resignation and Salah’s reign proved as much. The movement may have ousted Bouteflika, but not his ghost; his specter remains still, haunting Algeria as if from the dead, a reminder of the failures that demonstrators still see in their government. Until the state is rebuilt, many demonstrators say, there is no end in sight for Algeria’s long revolution.
Algerian writer and director Karim Moussaoui is among those who believe nothing short of a revolution will placate the movement. Moussaoui wrote in a January 1 piece for Le Monde, that 2020 was ushering in a “second season” of Hirak. He writes of this evolution with a triumphant sense of hope and fearless possibility. “Ten months of peaceful protests, which,” he says, “will forever mark the year 2019 and the history of Algeria.” Adding, “Something has been sparked within us that will never go away.”