On July 5, because of the anniversary of the independence from France, the streets of Algeria were filled again with tens of thousands of demonstrators. On the last Friday of hirak, which in Arabic means movement, the follow-up had dropped slightly. But on the symbolic date of liberation, the population wanted to show its firmness. It is a warning to those who led the liberation in 1962; but later nationalism and authoritarianism denatured his ideals to the point of trying to divide and channel the 2019 demonstrations as well. After former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was pressured to resign, Algeria’s new strongman, Ahmed Gaid Salah, become Chief of Staff. His decision to declare the octogenarian head of State incapacitated, following the line of people’s requests, did not foresee an adherence to the democratic process but an oblique movement to block it, trying to buy the opposition and train the crowd. During the last protests, Gaid Salah took off his mask and arrested about forty Algerians waving the Berber flag, communist leaders and human rights activists. “A threat against national unity,” he said.
NO TO THE EGYPTIAN WAY
Algerians’ strength is their extreme awareness. Unlike too many opposition parties, they do not fall into the traps of the worn-out apparatus of power and probably, for this reason, they fail to find political leaders. But on the other hand, they force the autocrats to renew themselves, for example, by rejecting an Egyptian way with a president like General Abdel Fattah al Sisi. The Constitutional Council was forced to postpone the elections scheduled for July 4, at the end of the ad interim President’s mandate, in the absence of a new constitutional and electoral authority; a fact pointed out in the demonstrations. And on July 12, the twenty-first consecutive Friday of protests, protesters responded to Gaid Salah’s militaristic statements calling for “a civil, non-military State.” Berber flags have been banned “the attempt made by a small minority to infiltrate.” According to the Berber leader Said Sadi of the Group for Culture and Democracy (RCD) who participates in the protests, “in 2019 the seeds of a plural Algeria planted in 1980 sprouted,” the year of the Berber spring. Those demonstrations meant the opening to the recognition of the Amazigh culture and language, also marginalized by the military regime by the National Liberation Front (FLN) of Bouteflika and Gaid Salah.
THE NEUTRALIZED ISLAMISTS
Currently, number two of the Defense still uses Arab nationalism against Berber independence, to divide the February 22 Movement with new protests. It is a dangerous game, after the foresight shown by the army in recent months, because Kabylie could burn again. The northeastern region infected by jihadism, where the almost 10 million Algerian Berbers are concentrated (between 20% and 30% of the population), has a tradition of great revolts since the times of Roman domination. Gaid Salah’s FLN had an easy game in neutralizing the Islamist opposition, appointing the Muslim Brotherhood Slimane Chenine as president of the post-Bouteflika Parliament this July. But with the Berbers, “free men” (Amazigh in their language), it is more difficult: the North African indigenous peoples have rebelled against the arrival of the Turks and Arabs, against Western colonization and, finally, against the regime. In recent years in Kabylie, dangerous nationalist fringes have also grown, as happened among Islamists during the civil war that took place between 1991 and 2002 due to the repression of the military and their political marginalization. With the coup that canceled their victory in the democratic vote.
OPPOSITION: UNITED SQUARE, DIVIDED PARTIES
The transition towards multipartism, in favor of the Islamist front, ended up with the suspension of democratic freedoms and tragic results. Military leaders have memory and so far have tried not to make the same mistake, perhaps hoping to seduce the young population. Instead, the millions of Algerians who have been protesting since February prefer a longer process than another president-dictator. To create an independent electoral Commission and a constituent Commission that reforms the laws and institutional mechanisms, the opposition forces that stand with the popular movement have joined a platform for dialogue with the FLN, coordinated by independent personalities. President ad interim Abdelkader Bensalah sought dialogue to unlock the stalemate by making large concessions. But at the same time, his right hand, Gaid Salah, was arresting the leaders of the Workers’ Party, activists and Berber protesters; Also the hero of the liberation war Lakhdar Bouregaa, 86 years old, because of “insulting the army.” The affected movements have rejected the roadmap with the FLN and the square is with them. But with an opposition politically divided, Algeria’s future remains uncertain.