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Algeria - 2019 Election - President / Hirak Movement

On 22 February 2019, Algerians took to the streets to protestPresident Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s attempt to run for a fifth mandate. The Hirak protests, which broke out across Algerian cities, were caused by the president’s announcement to run for re-election while ill in hospital and widely considered unfit for office. Since they began, Algerian authorities arrested more than a hundred protesters, journalists and activists, violating their rights to freedom of expression and association under the Algerian constitution and under international law. Interpretation of the ongoing Algerian movement called "Hirak" (meaning "movement" in Arabic) were highly contested among political commentators. Political scientists find it difficult to identify, with clearly defined borders, the differences between social movements and revolution. The Arab Spring was categorized as either a revolutionary movement or, more narrowly, as different social movements. The beginning of Algerian protests in February 2019, which continued through the year, were paradoxical in that the Algerian movement did fall within either of these Arab Spring categories. It is an unorganized movement seeking radical and dramatic change, not just social and political reforms. However, unlike some of the revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring, it totally rejected violence. Initially, instead of escalating to a military conflict between both sides, the back and forth contention took place on the streets without injuries or deaths. Every Thursday and Friday, and eventually other days as well, the Algerian movement persisted with the same dramatic demands. the movement does not have representatives. This means that every individual is included and the demands are sharply identified, with no negotiations with the regime unless it accepts the demands. In short, no negotiations unless the protestors get the power. Since October 2019, police suppression of protesters in Algiers has involved violence: using riot gear and batons. Algeria cannot hold a presidential election planned for July 4 due to a lack of valid candidates, its constitutional council said on 02 June 2019, prolonging the country's transition after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned two months earlier. The move extended the rule of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, who was meant to stay only until the vote to elect a new president after Bouteflika ended his 20-year rule in the wake of mass protests. Demonstrations have since continued, with protesters demanding Bensalah's resignation and an end to the dominance of the elite who have ruled Algeria since it won independence from France in 1962. In a statement on state television, the constitutional council said it had received only two candidates, who were deemed invalid. It did not set a new date for the presidential election, asking Bensalah to organise a vote at a later date, state television said.

Algeria's newly appointed president had set 04 July 2019 as the date for the country's postponed presidential election. The announcement on 10 April 2019 came a day after Abdelkader Bensalah, who will not be able to run in the election, was appointed as interim president for 90 days, replacing long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika who stepped down days earlier in the face of mass protests against him.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had been absent from the public eye since 2013 when he suffered a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound and limited his ability to speak. This has not kept him from winning presidential elections in the oil and gas-rich North African nation even without running an electoral campaign. After purging the country’s top military and intelligence leadership multiple times, he is set to run for a fifth term in the April 2019 elections.

Discord among the general population is palpable, owing to the increasing cost of living, scarce opportunities for employment or upward mobility, distrust of the political process and the government, limited access to decent health care, dissatisfaction with the educational system and the lack of affordable housing. The resultant frustration has led to frequent protests, demonstrations and civil disobedience throughout the country.

Algeria on 18 January 2019 announced a presidential election for 18 April 2019 without indicating whether veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika would stand, following calls for his nomination by a loyal ruling caste of businessmen, trade unions and the military. The president's brother and special adviser Said has been widely seen as Algeria's de facto ruler since Abdelaziz's stroke, which severely impaired the president's speech.

There are no presidential term limits, and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been in office since 1999. Voters re-elected Bouteflika in the 17 April 2014 presidential elections. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but noted low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. Only a handful of the top leaders (Bouteflika and the military) know the truth about Bouteflika's health, and Bouteflika might yet surprise people.

The 2019 presidential elections would decide current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's future in power. The president has a recent history of brain strokes that at times cost him control over most of his senses and placed him on a wheelchair. Since then, he has not been directly involved in public engagements and even missed his very own presidential campaign in 2014. Former Prime Minister Abdelmalek Salal took charge as Bouteflika’s campaign director. When performing the national oath, Bouteflika failed to read a full paragraph, leaving the impression that he would have great difficulty in fulfilling responsibilities during his fourth mandate.

Despite Bouteflika's shortcoming, the four major parties in the “pro-government bloc” insist that the current president serves best the interests of the country. The bloc comprises parties like National Liberation Front, headed by Bouteflika himself and the National Rally for Democracy, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia. They argue that no one can lead Algeria in its coming stage but Bouteflika.

If Bouteflika does not opt for a fifth stay in office, the same bloc would remain in power. The next president would likely be chosen from a score of candidates running for the election, such as PM Ahmed Ouyahia, former PM Abdelmalek Sellal and former Energy Minister Chakib Khelil. Rumors include the Vice Minister of Defense Ahmed Gaid Salah becoming the head the Algerian government.

According to the current constitution, the Senate president would become president of the republic if Bouteflika dies in office. He assumes the post for 60 days while presidential elections are held, but he cannot stand as a candidate himself. The uncertain outcome of this process appears to worry elements of the regime. A clearer line of succession would address their concerns, but requires settling on a particular candidate.

By 2006 Algerians were increasingly discussing and expressing concern about President Bouteflika's health. His infrequent public appearances and the postponement of a referendum on constitutional reform expected for December led ordinary Algerians to conclude that the president's health is declining. While the presidency denies that anything ails Bouteflika, the public generally believed he suffers from stomach or intestinal cancer. So widespread is the concern that independent media reporting on what one paper called the "deterioration" of Bouteflika's health had taken a remarkable turn toward the prolific. By comparison, when Bouteflika was hospitalized in Paris in late 2005, the Algerian press -- both official and private -- stuck to reporting the uninformative government communiques on Bouteflika's condition.

In December 2018, Bouteflika, who has been wheelchair-bound since 2013, was unable to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he came to Algiers for a two-day visit due to acute flu. His last meeting with a senior foreign official was during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on 17 September 2018. An earlier meeting with Merkel and a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte were cancelled. Bouteflika’s supporters say his mind remains sharp, even though he needs a microphone to speak. The opposition says he is not fit to run again.

Ali Ghediri, a former defence ministry personnel director, on 19 January 2019 became the first candidate to announce a run for president in April elections, as ailing incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika's intentions remained unknown. Ghediri was the first to seize the initiative, declaring in a statement to Algerian media that "I have decided to take up the challenge by running in the presidential election". "This major challenge... involves questioning, without any taboos, the established order," said the 64-year-old, who retired in 2015. Ghediri has bolstered his profile with a series of prominent media appearances in recent weeks. In an interview with El Watan newspaper last month he hit out at speculation that the polls might be postponed and Bouteflika's mandate extended, saying he expected the army to stop any such move.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Algeria's capital on 01 March 2019 to protest against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in power, AFP news agency reported. "Regime murderers," groups of flag-waving demonstrators chanted as riot police blocking their route used tear gas to prevent protesters from reaching key central locations. A photographer and journalist from local media were briefly detained by police and removed from the protests before being released, an AFP journalist said. Algerian news website TSA reported crowds had gathered at other locations around the country.

The demonstrations came a week after tens of thousands of people rallied in the North African state against 81-year-old Bouteflika's decision to stand in the April 18 election.

"To come out onto the streets in such huge numbers is an act of courage by the Algerian people. In a sense they have got rid of their fear of the repressive regime. This could be a tipping point in Algeria," Jeremy Keenan of the Queen Mary University of London, told Al Jazeera 01 March 2019. Keenan called the demonstrations "completely unprecedented". He said Algerian youth are not only calling for 81-year-old Bouteflika to not run in the upcoming election but also are demanding a change in the way their oil-rich country is governed. "Fifty percent of the Algerian population, we are talking about 42 million people, is under the age of 27 and 30 percent of those are unemployed. You have a country that is potentially extremely rich. The revenues from oil in the last 20 years have been at least a trillion dollars. Of that at least 300 million is unaccounted for. People know this and are sick of it." he added.

The anti-government protests that erupted in several cities and towns after Friday prayers on 01 March 2019 were the biggest in years. Protesters opposed Bouteflika running for a fifth term in office, but there was also anger at the country’s high joblessness and alleged government corruption. Algeria faced its largest demonstrations in years, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to protest another re-election bid by ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. For the moment, Boutelika was expected to formally present his candidacy by Sunday’s deadline.

The protests were largely peaceful, butthere were reports of violence that left at least one person dead. The state-run Algerian Press Service reported 56 police officers and seven citizens were wounded in the capital, Algiers, and several dozen protesters were arrested. Other media described witness accounts of police hitting demonstrators with batons and lobbing tear gas at them.

Algerians felt both humiliated and infantilized by being expected to vote for Bouteflika once again — regardless of the true state of his health. The political structure is aging. Bouteflika had been part of Algeria’s power system since its independence from France in 1962.

The scale of the protests surprised many in Algeria and represented the biggest challenge in years to Bouteflika. The protests following Bouteflika's decision to seek reelection in 2014 involved tens to hundreds of protesters. Now there were hundreds of thousands of protesters. So in terms of intensity, scale, geographic location, and numbers there was a very different level.

Since taking office in 1999, Bouteflika is credited for restoring peace in Algeria following a brutal civil war that killed upwards of 100,000 people. The so-called Arab Spring that began in neighboring Tunisia in 2011, and swept across the region, left little mark on Algeria. Oil dollars helped the government maintain stability and few Algerians wanted to revisit their violent past.

Bouteflika pledged 03 March 2019 not to serve a full term if re-elected at April polls following huge protests against his bid to extend his 20 years in power. The ailing leader vowed in an 11th-hour letter read out on state television to organise a "national conference" that would set a date for early polls which he would not contest.

More than 1,000 judges said on 11 March 2019 they would refuse to oversee the election if Bouteflika stood. Clerics said they would not accept government orders about what to preach. The secretive military-based establishment known to Algerians as “le pouvoir” (the powers-that-be) appeared to have stood aside while the demonstrations have taken place. Security forces had been mostly restrained.

Algerians took to the streets in celebration on 11 March 2019 after ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he had abandoned his decision to seek a fifth term, bowing to weeks of mass demonstrations against his 20-year rule. In a series of announcements on Monday evening, the presidency said the election, previously set for April, would now be postponed. It did not set a new date. A new constitution would be submitted to the public for a referendum. Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia resigned and Noureddine Bedoui was appointed as the new prime minister. Ramtane Lamamra, who was Bouteflika’s diplomatic advisor, was appointed deputy prime minister. Bedoui had served as interior minister.

Algeria’s army chief called for long-term leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be declared unfit to rule. The statement came after weeks of massive protests against the extension of the president’s fourth term. "We must find a way out of this crisis immediately, within the constitutional framework," Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah said in a televised speech 26 March 2019. Upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah will reportedly be caretaker president for 45 days. Salah referred to Article 102 of the Algerian constitution which provides for the appointment of the parliament chairman as interim head of state, and organization of a snap election in the event that the president’s health prevents him from properly executing his duties.

About one million people took to the streets of Algiers on Friday 29 March 2019 to demand the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, police officers at the scene said, in the biggest demonstration since unrest erupted six weeks ago. In at least one location, police opened fire with tear gas and rubber bullets, chasing and beating demonstrators, after youths hurled stones at them. Protesters had ambitious demands in a country long- dominated by veterans of the 1954-1962 independence war against France, now seen by many Algerians as too old and out of touch. They want to replace the establishment with a new generation of leaders capable of modernizing the oil-dependent state and giving hope to a population impatient for a better life.

Bouteflika would resign by April 28. The president's office made the announcement 01 April 2019 after weeks of street protests, delays, resignations and political discussions. The president will take "steps to ensure state institutions continue to function during the transition period," Boutflika's office said in a statement relayed on television. The "resignation would occur before April 28, 2019."

Algeria's president informed the country's constitutional council 02 April 2019 of his decision to stand down. Abdelaziz Bouteflika's resignation followed an aggressive call from the country's defense ministry for the embattled president to quit "immediately" following weeks of street protests. The defense ministry's call came hours after the vice defense minister, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, said: "We will support the people until their demands are fully and completely satisfied."

A new caretaker government headed by recently appointed Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui was announced on 31 March 2019.

And on 02 April 2019, Gaid Salah, the country's powerful army chief and a long-time loyalist of the president, issued a strongly worded statement condemning "the gang that had seized control of" Algerians' destiny, in a direct reference to the president's inner circle, including elite cronies benefitting from the decades-long status quo. "The army will meet the people's demands," he told military personnel at a base on 10 April 2019, once again denouncing the corrupt "gang" running the country. By 2006 Gaid-Salah was 7 yaers beyond the new mandatory retirement age and had served as Chief of Staff since August 2004. In 2007, US embassy contacts in Algeria described Gaid Salah, commander of Algerian military forces, as "perhaps the most corrupt official in the military apparatus".

The head of the Algerian Constitutional Council stepped down 16 April 2019 after weeks facing the ire of protesters. Tayeb Belaiz informed the council, which will play a key role in upcoming presidential elections, that "he presented his resignation... to the head of state". Protesters had targeted the "3B" - Belaiz, Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, and Abdelkader Bensalah, who served as upper house speaker until being appointed interim president after Bouteflika's resignation.

On 04 May 2019 -Algerian police arrested former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's youngest brother alongside two former intelligence chiefs. Said Bouteflika and Generals Bachir Athmane Tartag and Mohamed Mediene were taken into custody on Saturday for questioning. The younger Bouteflika, who served as advisor to the president for more than a decade, was seen by many as having taken de facto control of the North African state, after his brother suffered a crippling stroke in 2013. Massive ongoing protests calling for a radical change pushed the ailing president to resign on April 2, but demonstrators continue to demand the removal of all those linked to the former administration.

Algeria’s Constitutional Council announced 26 May 2019 that two candidates had finally registered for the country’s July 4th presidential election, hours after public radio reported that a deadline had passed without any candidacy. The poll is strongly opposed by protesters who reject any vote held under authorities they say are tarnished by corruption from the rule of ousted leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika. But Algeria’s rulers have been determined to hold the ballot on July 4, seeing it as the only way out of a crisis that forced Bouteflika to leave power in April after weeks of protests. The deadline for registration passed at midnight on May 25. But the Constitutional Council said in a statement that it had received the files of two candidates, Abdelhakim Hamadi and Hamid Touahri, both unknown figures to the public. No major party has nominated a candidate.

Despite Bouteflika’s departure, protesters have continued to stage mass demonstrations each Friday. They want regime figures including army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah and interim President Abdelkader Bensalah to step down ahead of any poll and demand new independent institutions to oversee voting.

On 02 September 2019, army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah announced the electoral commission “should issue a call on September 15”, meaning that according to Algeria's constitution, the presidential elections will be held 90 days, on December 12. The statement noted challenges hindering the political process, establishes corruption and creates gangs, is the impartiality of elections and lack of neutrality of state institutions. The Islamic Party said the real democratic transformation can only be achieved by real political will. The party, chaired by Abderrazak Makri, stated some indicators cause many fears in terms of freedoms and democracy, including media control, restrictions on the establishment of associations and opposing parties, and attempts to whitewash state parties. Movement of Society for Peace, the largest opposition Islamist party, said it would announce its position on the presidential elections when the “electoral commission is officially called” - implying that the deadline should be set by the president, and not by the army chief.

The ‘Algeria Stand Up’ (Algérie – Debout! ) Facebook group with more than 60,000 members was hacked and shutdown by the state. In August 2019, Netblocks, a study on Internet shutdowns found that Youtube and Google services were blocked by state-run Algeria Telecom and other Internet providers after a political opposition video was posted.

Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui "will resign soon" to facilitate the holding of elections before the end of the year, which the army sees the only way to end a standoff over months of protests, two senior sources told Reuters on 10 September 2019. Bedoui's departure was a major demand of protesters, who in early April forced long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, and who had rejected fresh polls until there is a more thorough change of the power structure.

On September 15th, Algeria’s interim president, Abdelkader Bensalah, announced that a third attempt at holding elections, after the cancelled attempts in April and July, would take place on December 12th. The socio-political state in Algeria over the last 8 months has made the elections a non-starter for the public, given the deep distrust of the political system -that the ballot box has historically perpetuated. The military, headed by Ahmed Gaid Salah, sees an election as the only acceptable exit from the political impasse.

Both sides (the people and the establishment or military) see the constitution as the ultimate arbiter, but differ in their interpretations of it. The former believe elections cannot be held so long as remnants of the old regime are active and the people are not given the sovereignty afforded to them by the constitution to choose their next leader. The establishment believe all solutions must be derived from the constitution, in order to preserve the state’s institutions and security, which many view as a smokescreen for the military to maintain its position of imposing political leaders who represent their interests.

Despite calling for the departure of the unpopular prime minister Noureddine Bedoui, former prime minister Ali Benflis—who has attempted, and failed, to bag the presidency twice against Bouteflika—is hoping to succeed in 2019. Former prime minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was sacked after barely three months in for attempting to separate money from the state is seen as Benflis’ obstacle for the presidency. Relying on a legitimacy buoyed by his perceived victimhood under Bouteflika’s presidency and his backing of the popular movement (despite coming out in support of Bouteflika’s fifth term in January this year), his chances of capturing public trust are slim.

The military may back a relatively unknown “clean” candidate with no obvious links to the previous regime, who will honour the unwritten agreement of ruling as the civilian mask of the military’s power. The military may seem like they have their personal pick from the 120 plus potentials who have submitted their candidacies.

Five candidates would run in Algeria’s presidential election, including two former prime ministers, the head of the election authority said on 02 November 2019, amid mass protests rejecting the vote. Candidates for the December 12 election include former prime ministers Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, former culture minister Azzedddine Mihoubi, former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrine, and Abdelaziz Belaid, head of the El Mostakbal Movement party. Twenty-three candidates had applied to the election authority, but most failed to meet requirements which include collecting signatures from 25 of the country’s 48 provinces.

The five candidates were the softest version of Bouteflika’s system.

  1. Ali Benflis, was prime minister under Bouteflika but later set up an opposition party and unsuccessfully ran against him in the 2014 election.
  2. Abdelmadjid Tebboune, another former prime minister, was sacked by Bouteflika after only 90 days after clashing with one of the then president’s allies.
  3. Azzeddine Mihoubi was a culture minister under Bouteflika for years.
  4. Abdelaziz Belaid was a senior member of the FLN.
  5. Abdelkader Bengrina, a moderate Islamist, was tourism minister.

Algeria’s five presidential candidates on 17 November 2019 launched their campaigns, but some opposition protesters who say the vote will not be fair have hung sacks of garbage in places designated for political posters. The “Hirak” opposition movement, which emerged this year from weekly mass protests demanding the entrenched ruling hierarchy quits power, says it will not support any election until more senior officials stand aside. However, the men on the ballot all have close links with the establishment, and though some of them pushed for reforms, many still see them as part of an entrenched, unchanging elite.

Hirak’s opposition to the election set up a showdown over turnout - with the army and ruling establishment hoping for enough participation to ensure the legitimacy of a new president who can then move to end the protests. The army wants a return to normality and the end to a period of constitutional limbo in which an interim president holds office until a new election.

Algerians thronged their capital Friday 29 November 2019 to insist that a presidential election set for December—12 must not go ahead before a change of regime. Security forces, both uniformed and plain-clothed, flooded Algiers for the 41st—consecutive Friday of demonstrations, deploying water cannon and anti-barricade vehicles. Protesters fear the poll will cement in power politicians close to ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who quit in April under popular pressure after two decades as head of state. "There will be no vote!" demonstrators chanted. "We swear we will not stop!" At least 25—people were arrested before Friday's march.

Thousands marched in different cities of Algeria Friday 06 December 2019 to demand the presidential election scheduled for Dec. 12 to be canceled. They took to the streets on the 42nd consecutive Friday of protests against the "shadowy" ruling elite, which had controlled Algeria since its independence in 1962.

Voter turnout stood at 33 percent at 5pm local time (16:00 GMT), just two hours before polls closed, according to Algeria's independent election monitoring authority. More than 24 million people were eligible to vote. Eventually, , a record six in 10 Algerians abstained, Charfi said, the highest rate for a multi-party election since independence from France in 1962.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former Algerian prime minister who served under deposed leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was elected president of the protest-wracked country after a vote marred by unrest and low turnout. Tebboune, 74, took 58.15 percent of the vote, trouncing his four fellow contenders without the need for a second-round runoff, electoral commission chairman Mohamed Charfi announced.

Tebboune faced a difficult task to be accepted by the electorate in the North African country, where many citizens see the government as inept, corrupt and unable to manage the flagging economy. He served in Bouteflika's government from 1999 to 2002 as communications and then housing minister. He returned as housing minister from 2012 to 2017 when he was briefly appointed prime minister. But he was sacked by Bouteflika after just three months for criticising some of the president's inner circle, many of whom are now in jail on corruption charges. Since the start of the campaign, Tebboune has sought to distance himself from his years of service under Bouteflika.

On 20 March 2020, for the first time in over a year, the streets of the Algerian capital were quiet and almost empty on Friday, the day of weekly anti-government rallies. The coronavirus threat put paid to what would have been the 57th straight Friday of "Hirak" anti-regime protests since February 22, 2019, leaving mainly policemen, most wearing masks, out on the streets. Authorities in Algeria, which has suffered 10 deaths from the new coronavirus and reported 90 confirmed cases of the disease sweeping the globe, have banned marches, while the opposition itself has suspended rallies.

The coronavirus pandemic has emptied streets once packed with millions of anti-government protesters, while authorities continue a campaign of intimidation and arrests. Some predicted the pandemic, which now leaves Algeria with Africa’s biggest reported death toll, may unravel the largely peaceful Hirak protest movement born early in 2019. Yet other analysts believe, paradoxically, that COVID-19 could see it emerge stronger than ever. “The Hirak is taking charge of the health crisis,” said Anissa Daboussi, Middle East and North African program officer for the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). “Once again, civil society is offering the answers, not the state.”



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