Since February, Algeria has witnessed regular massive protests (called “Hirak,” the Arabic word for “movement”) demanding political change. Under pressure from the street, ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had been planning to run for a fifth term, withdrew his candidacy and later resigned. But demonstrators continue to call for the removal of other Bouteflika-era officials and for guarantees that elections, when they are held, will be free of interference from the government and the military.
Nacer Djabi is a renowned Algerian sociologist who has been both a supporter of the protests and a frequent commentator and analyst of their significance in the French and Arabic press. He spoke to Al-Fanar Media recently from Algiers.
Today, Djabi says, the main question is whether change will limit itself to side-lining some of the political figures of the old regime, or extend to a real transformation of the political system: “What’s mainly at stake is the question of whether we change the whole system or we just remove particular individuals. The youth and society want a radical political change, not just a change of some figures.” The message from the authorities is: “This individual has left, so you can go home. But we don’t want to stop where they want us to stop. The major question is how to change the system that created this corruption, all these ills?” (See a related article, “Algerian Students Thwart President Bouteflika’s Bid for Fifth Term.”)
Some of the groups that have called for change met recently in a national dialogue forum. The gathering, which was mostly comprised of nationalist, Islamist parties, nongovernmental organizations and unions, is just one avenue that opposition forces have pursued to try to hammer out their demands. There are other points of view and approaches, says Djabi, including those that are more radical or leftist, or that represent groups based on their Berber identity. These groups don’t want to move too quickly toward presidential elections, because they fear that process will bring back the old system.
In fact, one of the main points of contention today is how to structure a national dialogue with le pouvoir (as Algerians refer to the ruling regime) and what new independent structure will be created to oversee elections. “The demand of many is to keep government and the ministry of interior at a distance from the management of the elections, and to have the first free and honest elections in the country,” explains Djabi.