Op-Ed: Why relentless protests will force faster change in Algeria

PUBLISHED: Mon, 18 Mar 2019 14:12:45 GMT

By Francois Conradie, Head of Research at NKC African Economics

The concessions President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made in a letter published on March 11 have not, contrary to our expectations, done anything to cool protest energy in the country.

After some jubilation in reaction to the fact that Mr Bouteflika had given up on a fifth term for himself, the mood shifted back to resentment against the way in which the proposals set out an open-ended transition period during which the ailing president remains in office (the presidential election scheduled for April 18 has been postponed until the end of the national conference and is set to follow a constitutional referendum).

“We wanted elections without Bouteflika,” as one wit told a journalist, “and we get Bouteflika without elections.”

The marches on Friday, March 15, were by all accounts the biggest since protests began in February, and more big marches took place on Sunday, March 17.

Protesters’ demands are for Mr Bouteflika to simply step down. ‘No to the prolongation of the fourth term’, was one slogan on placards they carried; a punchier one was ‘Leave!’.

The classic Arab chant of ‘the people want the regime to fall’ was heard, too.

Protesters generally also want Noureddine Bedoui – who replaced Ahmed Ouyahia as prime minister last Monday but is hardly less rooted in the Bouteflika system – to go.

Trade unions refused invitations Mr Bedoui issued at the weekend to join his new government.

The peacefulness of the demonstrations has been exemplary, and various bits of footage have shown police officers socialising and laughing with protesters.

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As of this weekend, our default expectation is for Mr Bouteflika to quit and for the army to take over.

The best and most probable political solution would be for the senate president to take over as interim head of state, but instead of the fresh presidential election to be held within 45 days as the constitution stipulates, we expect some sort of national conference initiative to still go ahead.

We remain optimistic about the direction of change, but we suspect that Islamist currents are organising very actively and see some downside risk from this mobilisation.