Amel Boubekeur | Researcher at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, in Paris
It is not about Bouteflika, it is about Algerians. Their protests did not suddenly appear in the context of a revolution against a strongman they once feared. They are a collective effort to take back control of political life from which the Algerian people have been excluded since 1962. This declaration of political independence aims at getting rid of the artificial choices that have been put before Algerians by the regime to paralyze their demands for change. These include being for or against their country’s “stability,” accepting the crumbs of the oil rent instead of social justice, accepting depoliticized negotiations to prevent another “civil war,” and embracing sham elections to avoid a military dictatorship.
The demonstrations may not prevent the army from asserting its control over the transition to come. However, they have resuscitated something more essential in the hearts of Algerians: a belief that it is again possible to be part of the same political community and dream of a state that will be theirs.
Yahia H. Zoubir | Professor of international relations and international management at the Kedge Business School in France
Since 2013 a seriously ill Abdelaziz Bouteflika has rarely appeared publicly and his capacity to rule has been doubtful. Rarely seen, he continues to address Algerians through his close associates. However, Algerians doubted whether those statements were his. Simultaneously, not only have living conditions in the country become more difficult, but high-level corruption has also become blatant. A break in the social contract had already become visible. Thus, when it was announced on February 10 that their incapacitated president would run, illegally, for a fifth term, Algerians felt insulted in their dignity. They resented being humiliated, watching their president being mocked in foreign media, particularly in France. Or worse, seeing his cronies parade his picture in ceremonies instead of the real person being present, or offering this portrait gifts! They understood that Bouteflika’s cronies wanted a fifth term so they could continue their predatory habits. Algerians believe that a fifth term means the continuation of their subjugation by a corrupt regime. That explains the mass uprising against it.
Rachid Tlemçani | Professor at the University of Algiers
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has made eight furtive appearances over the past seven years, is no longer in a physical and intellectual condition to be functional. Instead, an unconstitutional group headed by his brother Saïd has taken over the decisionmaking process. Since he announced his candidacy for a fifth term, Algeria has reacted. Algerians around the world, including women and children, have been on the streets demanding regime change peacefully. Millions are unexpectedly opposing Saïd’s second term. Algerians, as part of a nation and state, feel deeply and profoundly humiliated in world affairs. Humiliation is a driving force in history and is often more crucial than economic factors. Enough hogra—or the rule of arbitrariness! Algerians are no longer afraid of state coercion. The ongoing protests are also challenging the head of government’s public threat to transform Algeria into another Syria. Fear has to switch side. Algerians want to block a fifth term for Bouteflika, so that the country can regain its dignity, national pride, and influential regional role, as in the past. A new stage of social movement has started in the region.
Dalia Ghanem | Resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut
According to the slogans that I heard and the interviews I conducted during the demonstrations in Algiers, I would say that what bothers Algerians most in this fifth term is being taken for “half citizens” or “half people” by the authorities. Algerians are fed up with being represented by a president who has been extremely sick and unable to walk or address the nation for six years, let alone govern. As such, for millions of Algerians this fifth term is absurd, unreasonable, and outrageous. It is an umpteenth slap they have had to endure and they are protesting to regain their stolen dignity. The feeling is that the Bouteflika clan ands its patrons and supporters have been running and robbing the country for 20 years and it is enough. One revealing slogan was, “We neither want Bouteflika nor Saïd,” the president’s brother who is seen as the person trying to orchestrate a new term to benefit from it himself.
Lahouari Addi | Emeritus professor of sociology at the Institut d’Études Politiques (Sciences-Po) in Lyon, author of Radical Arab Nationalism and Political Islam (Georgetown University Press, 2017)
Hundreds of thousands of Algerians are demonstrating in the streets against the candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is running for a fifth term. Beside his questionable legacy, Bouteflika is sick and has not delivered a speech publicly for six years. He cannot attend international conferences along with other heads of state and does not receive foreign officials. The national pride of citizens is hurt when they see their president handicapped and unable to speak.
For the public, the decision to go for a fifth term has been made by the military, which is taking advantage of a weak president. It is indeed the idiosyncrasy of the Algerian system to have formal power embodied by the president and the government, while real power is in the hands of the military leadership. The street is rebelling against the control of institutions by the military. Who will be the winner? The future of democracy and the rule of law in Algeria is at stake.