Yes, in general up till now it’s been the army that has picked Algeria’s presidents and designated the leaders of its institutions.
There was a phase after independence, in which the authorities (“le pouvoir”) took charge of social problems. The army led a coup d’état in 1962 to take charge. But people didn’t push back so much against this. They had just won independence, and, at the same time, the army rallied behind the word “socialism” and gave benefits to the people, including education and free health care. Universities and schools were developed, and we had a generation of people who completed their studies.
But the single-party system continued, supported by the army. The president after Hourari Boumediène (who ruled from 1965 to 1978), Chadli Bendjedid, came from the military. In 1988, there was a popular revolt to demand democracy, also driven by the country’s economic problems. This produced a small opening, and the authorities accepted a constitution that gave the right to form labor unions that could bargain sector by sector and to create political associations and civil-society organizations. Our union was created in the public sector over the following two years, and in 1990 became the first registered union.
But the army didn’t allow enough time for civil society to build itself. The following year the Islamic party won the municipal elections and then a majority in the National Assembly. And the army intervened. It conducted a coup d’état and took power back. So, the army was in control again and installed an interim president, a former revolutionary who was killed by special security forces six months later, while giving a speech, live on television. In 1992, a state of emergency was declared. Then there was a presidential election (in 1995) controlled by the military. Three years later, this military official (Liamine Zéroual) was pushed to resign by military officials. Then Bouteflika arrived (in 1999).
In 2004, the army was divided over the prospects of a second term for Bouteflika. The security services were sympathetic toward him and won out over the opposition that came from the rest of the military. With their support, in 2008 he changed the Constitution, allowing him to run for another term in office. In 2014, the army also imposed a fourth term, and in 2019 a fifth.
Already in 2014, there were protests. I spoke out at the time, in the El Watan newspaper, and said a fourth term was a good thing for the opposition because it would allow citizens to better organize. And voilà. In 2019, before the fifth term, people came out into the streets. The army has changed its mind, because it couldn’t turn its weapons against the people. One of the popular demands was for Bouteflika and his brother to leave office, and he’s done so.
Still, his allies remain in power, in a system he has spent over twenty years building. It consists of three major figures: the former head of the secret services, General Toufik; the head of the army, Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has his own military security; and the presidential office with its own military security (led by Athmane Tartag).
But people said, “we don’t want to play this game anymore.” The head of the army initially took a stance against the people, but they weren’t afraid, and they came back on the streets. After the second and then third marches, the army leadership changed its stance. they agreed with one of the demonstrators’ main points, namely that this sick president needed to leave office.
Yet before Bouteflika left office he had already put a mafia-like, corrupt government in place. According to the constitution, his automatic replacement is the president of the Senate, Abdelkader Bensalah. He is now serving as interim president.
The people responded by saying, “We don’t want the four Bs anymore.” Who are the four Bs? The president of the Constitutional Council Tayeb Belaiz, the former president of the Senate Bensalah, Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, and the fourth is Mouad Bouchareb, the president of the National Assembly. Following the eighth march, one of the four Bs, Belaiz, resigned. So now three Bs remain.
Interim president Bensalah remains in office and has installed a new head of the Constitutional Council that the people don’t trust. At the same time, he wants to begin consultations with civil society and with parties to organize presidential elections in July. It’s not going to work. People don’t want elections organized by these people. They want a transitional government and an independent commission to run elections, not the Interior Ministry. That’s the first thing. Then there are people who propose a constitutional convention.
That’s what’s happening now. The ninth march on April 19 was to say “no” to Bensalah, to say “no, we don’t want to negotiate.” Bensalah is trying to get people to meet him, but opposition parties have declined the invitations. The people are saying “everyone who meets with Bensalah is a traitor. There’s no path to the future [with him].” Major independent figures don’t want to meet with him either. So he’s trying to buy time.
We’ve threatened a general strike, a political strike, with consultation with parties and other members of civil society. If Bensalah continues like this, we’re ready to move to a day-long general strike and all of Algeria shuts down. But with the participation of everyone. All of the movement.
Already the municipal workers are saying they don’t want to organize these elections. The municipalities are the most important part of elections in Algeria and even mayors have said “we’re not going to organize elections.” There are judges saying, “we’re not going to organize elections.” And government officials saying, “we’re not going organize elections.” All of this is to say there won’t be elections on July 4, as proposed by Bensalah.