Following the resignation of President Bouteflika, Josh Newman interviews an Algerian activist on the situation on the ground
A popular uprising in Algeria has seen weeks of protests which culminated in President Bouteflika, who had been in power for 20 years, resigning. His resignation was met with jubilation on the streets of Algeria, but protests have since continued, rejecting the interim President and demanding the current government in its entirety is overthrown. I spoke to a young Algerian man who has been involved in the protests.
Why did you decide to get involved in the protest?
Firstly, because the people have had enough. Today the people are saying they are sick of the system, sick of the way things are, of the president, and of the constant changes to the constitution. This is a danger to our democracy. It’s also about a president who cannot face the people. The Algerian people have not seen their president for six years! As far as I remember, the last time he spoke in public was in 2012/13. Otherwise, he only communicates in notices and letters. We couldn’t face him getting a fifth term.
What are conditions like for the Algerian people?
Today the people are full of hope, first of all. Algeria is a very young country, you know. The population has an average age of 26/7. They have a lot of hope and want to move forward. They are imagining a peaceful revolution. No previous movement has managed to gather so many people, it really is the first time. The atmosphere is one of peace and solidarity, united around the same idea, the same ideology: no to a fifth term and the removal of the government and all of its destructive entourage.
What about the economic conditions of the country?
For a long time now we’ve seen a devaluing of the local currency. Oil and gas make up more than 90% of the country's exports. It’s not a diverse economy and that’s the main problem we have at the moment. Purchasing power is very low and prices are soaring. At the same time, there is reason to be hopeful because Algeria is a large country with a lot of potential to move forward very quickly. Of course, that is only on the condition that the economic situation can be resolved.
Do you think the demands of the movement have changed since the beginning?
Following the recent news of the president’s resignation we are entering a transitional period. At the moment it’s the current government who will put up the elections. This is not what the people want because they have no confidence in this government. The elections must be conducted in an unbiased, independent, and transparent way.
As I understand it the military instigated the resignation. Are you worried about a situation like what we saw in Egypt could happen in Algeria?
No, not in my opinion. Here we have a much more stable situation. Also, there is no appetite for instability here - that would benefit no one. All of the action has a focused direction. It is not a violent, military movement. It is committed to a peaceful political transition. The army actually acted in positive reaction to the demands of the people. That’s what the army is doing now.
What do you think of the role of the US and other Western powers in the country, and do you think that these powers will try and influence the situation in Algeria?
Well look, it’s the same story with every major power. Algeria has strategic significance. That is to say, a geopolitical significance because they cannot accept change and instability in the region. So of course there will be attempts to push Algeria in one direction or another. Naturally, France is a dominant power - we’re an old colony so there are still interests at play there. They have remained neutral so far but I wouldn’t like to predict what might happen in the future.
In your opinion, what are the next steps for the movement?
Now the people are demanding independent elections. They have no confidence in the government who are going to organise the upcoming elections. We must ensure that the elections are not rigged. That’s the first thing. The next step is that, if the elections go well and we have a new president, everyone can come together and work towards a lawful state which everyone is responsible for. We must move towards a new Algerian Republic. This is what every young person in Algeria is hoping for.
Josh Newman is a teacher, musician, and writer from East Kent who now runs Counterfire and Stop the War branches in Oxford
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