The Irish Times view on Algeria: Keeping up the pressure

Algeria's president will not seek a fifth term but protesters question his intentions

Photo taken on November 23rd, 2017, of Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers. Photograph: Ryad Kramdi/AFP/Getty Images

Photo taken on November 23rd, 2017, of Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers. Photograph: Ryad Kramdi/AFP/Getty Images

 

For the Algerian protesters who have peacefully demonstrated for weeks against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s move to seek a fifth term in office, the announcement by the ailing 82-year-old that he would not put his name forward for re-election was an achievement to savour. But the mood of celebration that greeted the news on Monday has since given way to scepticism about the regime’s intentions.

The re-election bid by Bouteflika, who was incapacitated by a stroke in 2013 and has not spoken in public since, was seen by many Algerians as a final humiliation. The man who many older Algerians associate with the war of independence and credit with fending off an Islamist threat in the 1990s symbolises, for a younger generation, a calcified gerontocracy widely blamed for holding the country back.

Algeria, Africa’s biggest country and one with ample natural resources, should be a regional powerhouse. Instead it is a closed, sluggish economy with high unemployment

Organised initially by young people on social media, the street protests grew and spread over recent weeks, eventually winning public support from judges, teachers and even veterans of the independence struggle. Bouteflika duly bowed to the mood on the streets and announced that he would not seek re-election and said the elections planned for April 18th would be rescheduled. The regime also declared itself ready for talks – an idea rejected by the protesters, who plan to demonstrate again today.

People celebrate on the streets after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he will not run for a fifth term, in Algiers on Monday. Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters
People celebrate on the streets after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he will not run for a fifth term, in Algiers on Monday. Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

They are right to be wary. Bouteflika’s announcement gave no indication of whether he would step down when his term expires next month. He pledged a hold a national conference to decide on a way forward and fix the date of the next election, but that sounds suspiciously like a way of buying time for the regime to dig in.

Algeria, Africa’s biggest country and one with ample natural resources, should be a regional powerhouse. Instead it is a closed, sluggish economy with high unemployment, presided over by a tired and opaque ruling clique of generals, businessmen and independence war veterans. What it needs is for Bouteflika and his entourage to leave the stage, for the military to get out of politics and for a new generation to step up through free and fair elections.

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