Protest against President Bouteflika standing for reelection for fifth time, in city of Blida, Algeria on 10 March 2019. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Fethi Hamlati Protest against President Bouteflika standing for reelection for fifth time, in city of Blida, Algeria on 10 March 2019. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Fethi Hamlati

The working class has hit the streets in Algeria, reviving hopes of revolutionary change in the region and beyond, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Algeria has often been mentioned as a country that escaped the fate of the Arab Spring. But in late 2010, tens of thousands protested, and, in spring 2011, the country witnessed a strike wave.

Through a combination of scare-mongering about a return to the civil war of the 1990s between the FLN and Islamic forces, and increased social spending based on oil money, the regime of the Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika managed to avert crisis.

However, falling oil prices since 2014 have increased hardship in Algeria, driving up inflation and prompting austerity measures. By 2016, public sector unions responded to pension cuts with strikes.

By early 2019, strikes and demonstrations among education, transport and public sector workers hit not just Algeria, but also Tunisia and Morocco.

In the last month, moreover, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Algeria to demand that the severely ill and incapacitated Bouteflika does not stand in his fifth election in a row in April 2019.

The Algerian people grew angry at the obvious attempt of Bouteflika’s inner circle to hold an election and to continue ruling from the shadows.

Once again, the slogan that became iconic during the Arab Spring could be heard in the Maghreb once again: ‘The people demand the downfall of the regime!’

Strikes have involved transport workers, teachers, civil servants, auto workers and employees in the natural gas sector.

By Friday 15 March, millions were demonstrating in the fourth weekly set of demonstrations, defying predictions that the movement would die down just days after Bouteflika announced he would not stand in the upcoming elections.

There is no telling where the situation goes next. It has been obvious that, as in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, the Western powers have been reluctant to destabilise regimes that have long served their interests.

French President Emmanuel Macron has led calls for an orderly transition of ‘reasonable duration’ in Algeria, clearly signalling that the Western powers would prefer a recalibration of the already ruling regime, rather than fundamental changes.

However, as shown during the course of the Arab Spring, when the masses move, imperialist machinations to manufacture the preferred ends of the Western face great difficulties.

Moreover, we should not forget that the Arab Spring spread to Europe and North America, inspiring the Indignados! movement in Spain and Occupy! in the United States.

This time round, moreover, the context should cause the establishment in Western countries to worry. Last time, movements of opposition in the wake of the 2008 crash in the world economy were only just emerging.

But now, we already have the gilets jaunes in France, the Sanders movement in the United States and the phenomenon of Corbynism in the UK, and protests across the advanced world. No one trusts politicians after a decade of crisis.

A repeat of revolutionary upheaval in the Middle East may therefore be even more difficult to contain than last time.

Moreover, the catastrophic impact of military intervention to secure Western interests during the era of the first Arab Spring will serve to make Western meddling more difficult this time round should the situation continue to escalate.

Expect major attempts at conciliation in the next days and weeks across the Middle East. But make no mistake. The world economy continues to perform badly. The political elites across the world are visibly at a loss about how to respond. And increasing numbers of ordinary people refuse to continue as if times were normal. We have all the ingredients for a revolutionary year.

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.