Friday has become “Protest Day” in Algeria. This may not be an official holiday in the North African nation, but it is quickly becoming a national tradition. For six weeks in a row, Algerians have taken to the streets by the millions to protest their President and government.
In my last post on this unfolding story, I noted how the Algerian people were protesting the upcoming fifth election of their 81-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Bouteflika is debilitated by a stroke and has not been seen in public since 2013. He has spent much of his presidency abroad seeking medical care.
Within hours of this story being posted Bouteflika’s jet landed in Algeria in response to the massive protests. Then, in that same week, he announced through his representatives that he would not seek reelection to a fifth term and the elections scheduled for April were being canceled.
This first seemed like a major victory for the Algerian people and their ever-growing protests, but many were quick to point out that problems still remained. Bouteflika was not running for reelection but now there were no new elections planned. Did the strongman of Algeria believe he could hold office indefinitely and outlast the protesters?
That was at week three of the protests. Last week, week six, the protests have continued to grow and the tone and mood of the country is becoming more assertive against not only Bouteflika but the entire established order within Algeria.
When the protests started Algeria’s rulers limited access to the internet to disrupt the organizing and communication capacity of the protesters. Last week, for the first time, all three of the state news outlets broadcast the protests live.
In response to the protesters Algerian General Ahmed Gaid Salah, previously a strong ally to the President, proposed that Bouteflika be removed from office and General Salah serves as the interim President until elections could be held. This proposal was in line with Algeria’s constitutional requirements for the event its President is found unfit for office.
It was not enough for the protesters though. At this point, they are not protesting only President Bouteflika but the entire system of order and corruption that has propped him up in office. That means the friends and powerbrokers to the President who have ruled over Algeria since the 1990s must also go.
Rising Risks to Algeria
To this point, the protests in Algeria have remained largely nonviolent with the exception of a few troublemakers according to most international media reports. But that does not mean that Algeria’s protests are happening in a vacuum. The longer these protests continue, the longer the nation remains politically unstable, the more the potential for additional risks grows.
Chief among these risks are the designs of Islamic extremists in the region and nations that surround Algeria.
The so-called Arab Spring at the beginning of this decade was highly destabilizing to North Africa. Many leaders and dictators were toppled and in the instability that followed Islamic extremists seeking to take advantage. Algeria has so far been a bastion of strength and stability resisting these extremist parties that surround its borders.
To the west and south is the instability of the Islamic extremist groups such as JNIM that I have featured in previous posts.
See: Massacres in Mali – Growing Violence in West Africa Reaches a New Peak and Burkina Faso Terrorism
To the west is Libya which has been ransacked by civil war and violence since the Arab Spring. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM – the North Africa branch of al Qaeda) has long been a threat to Algeria from its outposts in the neighboring countries. ISIS is also very active in Libya.
In early March the leader of AQIM published to social media a direct appeal to Algeria’s protesters. He noted that the injustice and inequality that provoked this unrest was brought on because Algeria failed to follow Islamic law in earlier political movements and revolutions. They must take advantage of this moment to correct this error. This direct appeal is similar to the strategy that AQIM used to encroach upon the unrest and instability in Libya years earlier.