Despite Algiers being blockaded by the authorities, Algerians marched on Saturday, February 22nd, to mark the one year anniversary of the pro-democracy protests, rejecting one more time the army-appointed president as “illegitimate”.
Since Thursday, the roads leading to Algiers were virtually shut down by gendarmerie and police checkpoints stationed at the capital’s entry points and along motorways, a move meant to weaken the size of the protests in Algiers. Cars, buses registered in other regions of the country were instructed to turn around, a practice many Algerians likened to practices seen under French occupation.
In Algiers, hundreds of thousands had filled the streets by noon, chanting “we’re not here to celebrate, we’re here to make you go”, a reference to Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s decision to declare the anniversary as a “national day of cohesion between the people and their army”, a move widely ridiculed on social media and in the streets.
“The people want independence”
For Karim, a student and pro-democracy activist, the protests are far from over: “we’ll fight until the end, this cocaine dealer [referring to president Abdelmadjid Tebboune] is a humiliation for our country. Not only he is uneducated and corrupt, but he is also a symbol of the Bouteflika era”.
Further down the street, our reporter witnesses a teenager who appeared no older than 12 years old being arrested and searched by three undercover police officers. The stop-and-frisk operations appeared to be meant to dissuade the demonstrators who were descending upon the city’s centre in large numbers.
Walking up Didouche Mourad, the main artery of the city centre, thousands chanted anti-regime slogans in unison, demanding their “independence”.
Reaching the RCD opposition party headquarters, the police had blocked the street, to prevent demonstrators from walking up to the presidential palace in El Mouradia. A number of demonstrators were injured when the anti-riot police resorted to the use of a water cannon and their batons.
An hour later, reports emerged of demonstrators circumventing the police checkpoints and walking towards the presidential palace, they were beaten by the heavily-deployed anti-riot police.
In recent weeks, calls to march on El Mouradia and occupy the presidential palace multiplied on social media, a clear sign that Algerians are ready to alter their strategy in the face of a regime unwilling to part with its old ways, a regime in denial, clinging to power as long as it possibly can.
The Algiers Herald’s view on the situation in Algeria
Peaceful protests have shown their limitation. It is time for Algerians to come to the realisation that a dozen corrupt military generals have defied the Algerian people’s will, pride and dignity, by appointing a president just as corrupt as all his predecessors, if not more. Will Algerians tolerate the humiliation or will they rise to the challenge?
Escalating the movement, organizing the Hirak through the creation of a parallel government, taking peaceful – but radical – actions such as civil disobedience, appointing the Hirak’s own representatives in Algeria and abroad, carrying out decisive but measured actions against the regime members now hiding in Western countries where a large diaspora can get more involved, are all ways for Algerians to amp up the pressure.
Put simply, a regime as corrupt as the one in Algeria will only leave if forced out. It is for the Algerian people to consider the ramifications for the future generations of continuing to live under a military dictatorship where widespread corruption, incompetence, injustice, censorship, under-development and under-education have become the norm. An oil-rich country where, paradoxically, pavements have become a luxury.
Algerians are now faced with two options: keep the ‘hirak’ going and take power by force, or, give up on their country. It is a simple as that.