The Algerian Hirak returns to state authoritarianism

This Friday, February 18, 2022, the numbers were down from the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets of Algeria’s main towns and villages when the Hirak – which was first launched three years earlier on February 22 2019 – overthrew President Abdelaziz. Bouteflika.

Many analysts believe that Bouteflika’s sultanism, corruption, mismanagement, embezzlement and crony capitalism during his two decades of rule was the accelerating factor in the rise of the Hirak (Algerian protest movement ).

This return to the streets of Algiers and other cities on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Hirak, also known as the “Smile Revolution”, has been met with a heavy police presence. However, these hundreds of demonstrators intended to show the establishment that the Hirak is still there and that the struggle for change continues.

It should be pointed out that since 2019, the regime has attempted to drive a wedge between Hirak militants along tribal lines, ethnic lines, regional borders and by pitting Amazighs against Arabs.

Since 2019, the regime has been trying to drive a wedge between Hirak militants.

For Louisa Driss-Haït Hamadouche, professor of political science at the University of Algiers, the system (also called “Le Pouvoir”) will do everything possible to maintain control. “The Algerian system has a great capacity for resilience and has always relied on three pillars to guarantee its sustainability: cooptation, repression and division,” she said.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s regime has so far been marked by a crackdown on Hirak. And to add insult to injury, he continues to embalm his decisions as if they were up to the demands of the movement.

In 2020, rather cynically, President Tebboune declared February 22 – the anniversary of the start of the Hirak – a national holiday to honor “the bond between the people and the army in favor of democracy”.

The Algerian regime has always engaged in repressive and Machiavellian tactics to muzzle both the opposition and Hirak once and for all. In recent months, Algerian authorities have stepped up efforts to crack down on opponents, left-wing parties, journalists, civil society activists, academics, and any group advocating systemic change and democracy.

As hundreds of Algerians flee the country on dinghies, rights groups say some 335 people are currently imprisoned in Algeria due to their links to the Hirak.

However, this figure does not reveal the full extent and intensity of the repression.

On January 28, 40 of these prisoners of conscience began an open hunger strike in the notorious prison of El-Harrach near Algiers to denounce their arbitrary detention and the erroneous charges brought against them.

Many former prisoners have been open about the mistreatment and sexual abuse they suffered in prison.

Many former prisoners have been open about the mistreatment and sexual abuse they suffered in prison. Walid Nekkiche, a young Algerian student, was tortured and sexually assaulted during his arrest.

Other Hirak protesters like Saïd Chetouane, a minor arrested while participating in Hirak, were also sexually abused while in police custody.

Kaddour Chouicha, a professor at the University of Oran and vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), was also a victim of torture while incarcerated.

The instrumentalization of justice is another maneuver intended to vilify the popular movement and to destroy any form of protest.

One example is the banning of the Paris-based Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia (MAK), a separatist organization with a handful of followers who demand self-determination for the Kabylia Region.

In addition, the London-based Rachad group – led by Algerian politicians and intellectuals in exile as well as members of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and other secular parties – called for peaceful regime change in Algeria and was also classified as a terrorist organization by the regime.

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Those familiar with the configuration of the Algerian regime know that since the country’s independence from France in 1962, the state has been established by the military. And it is the army and the intelligence services that control the political life of the country. They create and forbid parties at will. They appoint deputies, ministers, mayors, governors, prime ministers and even presidents.

The Hirak was grappling with a thorny question: the role of the army in Algerian politics.

The Hirak nevertheless faced a thorny issue: the role of the army in Algerian politics. The persistent demand for a civilian-led government is one of Hirak’s main demands. And for the authorities, this request is not negotiable.

The civilian facade that the military junta has always tried to defend is a significant indication that it will continue to exercise its hegemony over Algerian politics. Indeed, each ballot was structured to systematically present the military as the sole political actor, the arbiter, the opponent and the ultimate decision-maker.

All the various lifting measures of the national and local assemblies, including the newly amended constitution, the renewal in November 2021 of the municipal and provincial councils, and apparently initiated by President Tebboune, serve the same purpose.

Many analysts believe that the November 2021 elections, which allowed the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Democratic Rally (RND) to take the lead, will neither change the autocratic character of the Algerian regime nor give it any legitimacy. democratic. Using democratic processes without establishing a democratic regime makes no sense.

However, one must ask oneself, how did the FLN and the RND manage to impose themselves on the political scene in less than three years?

Everyone knows how these two political parties seemed hopelessly doomed during the first months of the Hirak, when millions of Algerians came out to protest their cronyism, their involvement in mismanagement and their link to various corruption scandals.

These two parties, which were delegitimized by Hirak in 2019, eventually won back the parliamentary and local assemblies in Algeria, and ultimately helped the regime reorganize its dominance.

The authorities have neither vision nor strategy to deal with the multidimensional crisis.

It is obvious that the authorities have neither vision nor strategy to deal with the multidimensional crisis which is suffocating the country a little more every day, and which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

To maintain their heavy and hegemonic tutelage over the country, state officials and beneficiaries of the regime’s crony capitalism pontificate on “the new Algeria”, while socio-economic and political benchmarks indicate the opposite.

Harsh popular repression temporarily succeeded in stifling the Hirak and progress appears to have been hampered. So where can the Hirak go from here?

More than ever, the movement is called upon to maintain its peaceful militancy, to structure itself and to propose a credible political program that can be supported by a legitimate leadership. For without a compelling program and strong leadership, it is unlikely to see an improvement in Algeria’s system of governance or economic and social conditions.

About Wesley V. Finley

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