April 13, 2019


Algeria in revolt: "We woke up and you will pay!": The abdication of President Bouteflika is a historic victory for the Algerian people -- but the struggle for a true democratic transition is far from over. (Hamza Hamouchene, 12 April 2019, Open Democracy)

Nine years ago, Algeria seemed to be immune to this revolutionary fever and was viewed as the exception to the rule, despite harboring the same set of conditions for revolt. At the time, the government suggested that Algeria already had its "spring" over two decades earlier, referring to the short-lived democratic transition following weeks of demonstrations in October 1988 that forced the regime to give way to political pluralism and an independent press. However, these gains in civil liberties and the "democratic transition" were aborted by the military coup and the civil war of the 1990s.

In addition to ongoing forms of repression, collective memories of hundreds of thousands of deaths and brutal state violence underpinning the eradication of the Islamist opposition may help explain the failure of an uprising to take root in Algeria during the 2010-2011 period. The spectre of the civil war and the fear of bloody violence have been further exacerbated by the intervention in Libya, the counter-revolution in Egypt and the carnage and foreign interference in Syria.

Additionally, oil and gas revenues -- which prices peaked in the late 2000s -- were used to purchase social peace domestically and to secure international acquiescence. Domestically, the hydrocarbon bonanza was used to pacify the population and prevent the intensification of popular anger. Externally, by virtue of being the third largest provider of natural gas to Europe after Russia and Norway, and given the dwindling production in the North Sea and the Ukrainian crisis, Algeria hoped it could leverage this position to play an even more important role in securing Europe's energy supplies, and by extension Western collusion and approval.

These factors do no longer constitute a brake on people's desire for meaningful change as popular discontent from below converged with a deep crisis within the ruling classes leading to the indignation of the oppressed to burst forth and find its expression in the streets.

Algeria has been undergoing an acute multi-dimensional crisis for some time now. The country has been experiencing a political crisis for decades -- in particular since the 1992 military coup and the ensuing brutal civil war. The origins of this crisis date back to the colonial era, though its most recent manifestations are the direct result of the politics of a parasitic accumulation and entrenched corruption: a militaro-oligarchic nexus that denies the Algerian people their right to self-determination and dispenses with popular legitimacy for the benefit of domestic and international capital.

This crisis has been exacerbated by several factors, not in the least by the ailing Bouteflika's general absence from the political stage. The crisis has been compounded by intra-elite power struggles, culminating in the fall of Algeria's long-term king maker, the Military Intelligence Agency (DRS) Chief in 2015 and the cocaine scandal of 2018, which led to the sacking of the head of police, a few generals and other high functionaries in the Ministry of Defense.

In a context of the failure of the institutionalized opposition and social movements to articulate and carry out a viable alternative, we predicted in 2016 that the slump in oil prices may just hammer the final nail in the coffin of a rentier, non-productive and de-industrialized economy that is highly dependent on oil and gas exports, the main source of foreign currency.....With the oil prices plummeting and with foreign currency reserves (estimated at $179 billion at the end of 2014) deemed to not last beyond 2016-2017, the 1988 experience could easily be replicated and the crisis has the potential to escalate into a full explosion that will threaten the country's national security and possibly its territorial integrity.

The recent events come at a time of an acute economic crisis characterized by crippling austerity measures following the decline of oil and gas export revenues, coupled with an intensification of infighting and divisions within the ruling elites after the imposition of the candidacy of Bouteflika for a fifth term at the helm of the state.

The triad of power consisting of the presidency, military intelligence (DRS) and the armed forces' high command showed its first signs of weakness in 2008 when the DRS started clashing with the two other centers of power. In 2019 the split was complete, when the decisive entrance of the people unto the political stage effectively forced the armed forces' high command to distance itself from the presidency. The military clearly intervened to put an end to Bouteflika's reign in order to safeguard the regime in place.

Such public displays of rivalry and dispute are symptomatic of the deep-seated contradictions and instability of the current ruling block and the crisis of hegemony within it, which has opened up new spaces for resistance.

This is a significant moment in the popular dynamic that started in February 2019 as this is only one victory in the long struggle for radical change that must include the overthrow of Major General Gaid Salah too; a key loyal figure in Bouteflika's regime and a supporter of his fifth term before backtracking under the pressure of the growing popular movement. The army leadership is definitely not to be trusted, as was made clear by Major General Salah's initial threats towards movement before adopting a more conciliatory tone. The Algerian people need to be more vigilant and determined than ever in order to halt the counter-revolutionary forces from hijacking this historic uprising.

Now that Bouteflika resigned, it is absolutely necessary to implement a truly democratic transition, and the people should not yield to calls for applying article 102 of the constitution, which would allow the leader of the upper house to take over and to organize elections in 90 days after the presidency has been declared vacant by the constitutional council (as the incumbent is too ill to exercise his functions).

Basically, if applied to the letter, this will keep the current system in place and will not guarantee free and transparent elections. The people are asking for popular sovereignty which cannot be curtailed by rigid legalistic and constitutionalist arguments. This is a unique moment in Algeria's history to impose a new revolutionary paradigm, which go beyond legal and constitutional frameworks in order to radically challenge the status quo and create a fundamental break with the oppressive system in place.

There are already several proposals to resolve the crisis and to initiate a kind of a transition that will satisfy peoples' demands and give them back their stifled sovereignty. The army command must not interfere with this process and must stick to its constitutional role of guaranteeing national security. Algerians did not revolt to replace some oppressors with others.

For this reason, the balance of forces must be shifted significantly towards the masses by maintaining the resistance (marches, occupations of public spaces, general strikes, etc) to force the army command to yield to people's demand for system change entailing the removal of the entire old political guard.

Converting the most brutal dictatorship in the region into a multi-confessional democracy demonstrated that no regime is immune.

Posted by at April 13, 2019 10:56 AM