The pro-democracy protests (known as the ‘Hirak’) have been slowly resuming in Algeria following a self-imposed suspension in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Algiers, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on October 5th to demand the fall of the military junta embodied by Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a civilian facade and a man implicated in a series of corruption scandals. This Monday’s protests coincided with the anniversary of the 5th of October 1988 protests, when the junta had deployed troops in Algiers, used live ammunition rounds, and killed over 500 peaceful demonstrators who had come out to demand change.
During this Monday’s protests, more than 60 demonstrators were arrested, 50 of whom were presented before the public prosecutor on October 7th.
On the 5th of October, a number of children, women and students were among the detained, one of whom, Chouaib, was tortured in custody by the police officers present, it has emerged. The Algiers Herald was able to independently verify the allegations of torture through an authenticated security source who spoke of the rise in repression: “the regime is trying to rule through fear, coming back to its 90s habits, kidnappings, torture, and everything else Algerians are very familiar with. The regime’s aim is to create a climate of fear and silence the Hirak for good“.
“They want to send a message to the population, just like a mafia does“, he added.
The resumption of the protests come a day after Tebboune was interviewed by Adam Nossiter of the New York Times, an interview during which the army-appointed president denied the existence of the Hirak protests – and the journalist Khaled Drareni – while chain-smoking in a “Moorish-style palace“.
At the heart of the protests is the growing rejection of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in a controversial election on December 12th, 2019, an election characterised by large scale electoral fraud and a no-show of the population.
Rejected by the population, the military regime behind Abdelmadjid Tebboune saw appointing a civilian president as a matter of survival.
Fast forward a few months and the regime saw in the Covid-19 crisis a golden opportunity to suppress the protests and further restrict freedoms. In parallel, it scheduled a constitutional referendum to take place on November 1st, a referendum rejected by the population just as much as the president himself.
On the 5th of October, the Algiers Herald was present on the ground. The usual slogans were sung by the demonstrators: “Tebboune is a fraud, the army brought him” was the most common slogan. Other slogans heard called for a halt to the increasing repression and the release of the hundreds of political prisoners detained under dubious security laws.
Surprised by the protests, dozens of police vans were seen being deployed in the city center, charging and arresting the peaceful demonstrators, even those that were just by-passers.
One demonstrator interviewed by the Algiers Herald had the following to say: “Tebboune is a thug, there is only himself and his entourage that recognize him as the president, the 44 other million Algerians do not. This thug needs to go and we won’ back down, wled Amirouche mé rendiwch” (the last part in Algerian dialect references a revolutionary fighter during the independence war).
Online the tone has changed, with a rejected regime burying its head in the sand, calls for an organised response to what the demonstrators see an an an unlawful occupying force have multiplied and initiatives are being set up by the diaspora and internally in that regard. Some even speak of the necessity of an armed response.
While Algeria faces an uncertain future characterized by a deepening of the political crisis and a looming economic crisis, the population has been calling for sanctions to be enacted against regime figureheads, while denouncing the double standards shown by the E.U which condemned and imposed sanctions on Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko, while in contrast, accepting the Algerian election’s results.