The Bab El-Oued district, one of the popular areas of Algiers, took April 19 off to prepare for another special day — the ninth consecutive Friday of protests against the political system in Algeria.
People were making use of the Friday morning, the first day of the weekend, to go to the market, have a shave at the barber shop or buy their pastries. On the balconies of the old white blocks of flats from the French colonial era, women were rushing to bring in the clothes before it rained.
Ussama, a 26-year-old plasterer, waited with friends for prayers in the mosque to end before going to the demonstration. “I don’t go to the mosque. The imams don’t like the protests, but we want to be free,” he affirmed, justifying his absence from prayer.
At four o’clock, Bab El-Oued’s square in the heart of the neighbourhood began to fill with a river of people carrying the Algerian flag and a one-word placard: “Resign!”. In the middle of a strong police presence, men (the majority of them young), women, children and entire families, equipped with food and water for a long day, set off along the seaside promenade towards the Grande Poste, the protest meeting point.
“We’ll set the Guinness book of records for demonstrations”, says a proud Noufez, 23 and unemployed. “But here we aren’t like the yellow vests, we’re peaceful.”
He takes the opportunity to add credit to his mobile so as to access the internet (four gigabytes a month costs 1000 dinars, about €5) although he knows that the connection will soon be cut off: “Every Friday it’s the same, the state cuts off the internet because they don’t want us to communicate during the protests. We are ruled by a mafia,” he complains.
The mass of people walks for half an hour towards the centre of the city. It is surrounded by the riot squad, police vans and vehicles equipped with water cannons or with what is known here as “the moustache”, a machine that the police use to remove barricades.
However, in this wave of protests there are neither barricades nor stones nor any other weapons apart from voices and banners. Silmiya (peaceful) is the word of the moment. And the slogan of this ninth Friday is clear: “Yetnehawgaa” ("They have all got to go").
Result of the protests
Since the April 2 resignation of octogenarian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the protests have continued to bear fruit. The chain of resignations has continued following that of the “mummy” president, known as such because a stroke left him in a wheelchair and without speech since 2013.
Constitutional council president Tayeb Belaiz folded last Tuesday, so only two of the “Big Four” are now left in office: Noureddine Bedoui, the incumbent Prime Minister since the start of the protests, and Abdelkader Bensalah, the Acting President replacing Bouteflika. He has called elections for July 4.
General Union of Algerian Workers Secretary General Sidi Saïd, identified as another man at the service of the “system”, resigned on Thursday.
In the capital, the protests on April 19 were again huge, although police blocked road access to the city, which caused large traffic jams. There was, however, no repression, nor tear gas, as had been the case in the last few weeks, after the head of the General Staff, General Gaid Salah, announced on April 16 that he had “clear instructions to protect the protesters”.
This guardianship of the army over the transition process has set off alarms, because the military are the heart of the Algerian regime.
On Friday, the demonstrations returned to cover the entire country: Bordj Bou Arreridj, Constantine, Oran and also the Cabília (Kabylia) region. In addition to demanding that “they all resign”, the protesters rejected the provisional government’s plan to call the political parties together on April 23 to decide on forming an independent election commission. Most political formations had already announced they would not attend.
Three generations speak out
“It’s no use replacing them with others of the same stripe, always old,” said an elderly woman standing in front of the Grande Poste, the imposing colonial building that contains the General Post Office.
In the square, everyone wants to talk to the foreign press, because the authorities dole out visas to foreign journalists with an eyedropper and people are glad to know that their cause arouses international interest.
The elderly woman has gone to the demonstration with her daughter Selima, a worker with Social Security who prefers not to give her last name, and the two grandchildren: three generations of women who have seen everything.
The grandmother lived through the war of independence from France, and the mother the dark decade of the civil war that left 200,000 dead across the country after the army coup that followed the 1991 election win of the Islamic Salvation Front.
“We are no longer afraid: I came to demonstrate for freedom and the future of my children. We have a country full of wealth but the people are poor,” says Selima. She complains most of all about the decay of the health and education systems.
The grandmother interrupts: “We want all of them to go and to give back what they have robbed from us.”
[Cristina Mas is the special correspondent in Algeria for the Catalan daily Ara. This article appeared in its April 20 edition. Translation by Dick Nichols.]