From the starkness of ‘No Fifth Mandate’ to the indeterminacy of ‘No 4 ½ Term’ in fewer than four weeks — mass protests across Algeria have forced 20-year president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to both abandon his fifth-term bid, and postpone the elections themselves, leaving the President in power, outside the constitution. It’s figurehead scalped, the ‘le pouvoir’ (the Power) nevertheless has its institutions, its stages and backstages; in this extraordinary moment, can the regime recover itself?
Can the people? In an 8 March interview with Liasons, an anonymous participant mentions the presence amongst protestors of Jamila Bouhired, the former fighter with Front de Libération national (FLN), whose anti-colonial methods were so famously depicted in Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle for Algiers, resistance that the women in the photo above, with their dress, refer to. But if ‘we have to free our country from colonialism for a second time’, as Drifa Ben M’hidi (sister of the FLN commander, Larbi Ben M’hidi) has said, who or what will constitute a second FLN, against the original party, still headed by Bouteflika? How will the popular classes cohere themselves against the ‘colonialism’ of his 4 ½ term presidency?
It is to these questions— constitutional and popular; the dangers of the first, and the prospects of the second — that Hocine Belalloufi gives some answer below.
Hocine Belalloufi lives and works in Algeria. He is the former managing editor of al-Jazaʾir al-Jumhūrīah (Republican Algeria), a journalist and author, and a militant with Parti Socialiste des Travailleurs (the Socialist Party of Workers). This is the second, shorter of his essays for Contretemps; the first and longer piece, currently in translation, focuses on intra-capital competition, and the decomposition of the Algerian state.
Joe Hayns and Roberto Mozzachiodi
Algeria — after the first victory, the struggle continues by Hocine Belalloufi
The immense, popular demontrations of the 22 Feburary, of the 1st and 8th of March — crowned with a general strike, started on the 10th — have together forced a retreat from the le pouvoir (‘the Power’).
On 11 March Bouteflika announced by letter his withdrawing from a fifth mandate run, the cancellation of the presidential election of 18 April, and ‘important changes to government’. The announcement was followed by the resignation of the hated Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia.
The retreat shouldn’t be trivialised. It is the defeat of a forced result, and constitutes, in this, an undeniable political success — and, mobilised and united, the people could yet wrest more victories.
Boutefliqa’s ‘Conférence nationale’
Bouteflika is trying though to retake the political initiative that has since 22 Feburary eluded him. He has announced, finally, the end of the crisis — from the top, in order, after the 18 April, to remain in place illegally, with a guiding hand over the ineluctable process of change, so as to save his liberal-authoritarian regime, with its democratic façade. He is attempting thus to reprise the 1988 experience, when the political transition was entirely steered by the institutions of the FLN, then the parti unique, holding the Presidency, the Government, and the Popular National Assembly (the lower house) — with the known result.
Today, the FLN is no longer the ‘only party’, though Bouteflika still commands a majority in the Assembly, the Senate, the Constitutional Council (which named him president), and all the antidemocratic institutions of the regime. He dismissed Ouyahia, but replaced him with his Interior Minister, Noureddine Bedoui, the very man who only weeks ago was threatening the people.
Bouteflika intends to impose the form, the content and rythme of change across the swamp of institutions. The national conference to be convoked aims fundamentally to keep the people from deciding their own destiny. It wants to assemble, without a mandate from the people, the self-proclaimed elites from the ranks of both le pouvoir and the opposition, as flanked by various personnalités indépendantes and other nobtables, to drown the few truly independent voices remaining, and adopt — amongst a closed circle — a constitutional project that the people, the only true sovereign, will be able only to ratfiy (and the entire procedure will, morevoer, likely last two years).
Inaudible over the last three weeks, the parties of the presidential coalition — the two larger parties, the FLN and the Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND); the smaller parties, the Mouvement Populaire Algérien (RPA) and the Rassemblement Espoir de l'Algérie (TAJ) — have timidly expressed their support for Bouteflika’s initiative; and, attempting to attract the ‘ultraliberal’ opposition — some whom have called for a national conference — the President has presented to them the mouth-watering prospect of ‘economic reforms’.
Too little, too late; the people demand real change!
Bouteflika’s promise of change has arrived too late. It is plainly as too limited. The Algeriann people have said — “it is not enough to patch up the regime; change it.” The people does not want Bouteflika to remain in place, and refuses the continued presence of the current political personages and the current insitutions. The majority of the popular layers have rejected those politics, antisocail and antinational, which enrich only a handful of oligarchs and importers, that favour the pillage of national riches by the multinationals, and that plunge into misery the [industrial] workers and popular layers. The only horizons that these politics offer to the popular classes’ youth are unemployment and precarity, drugs, the bottom of the Mediterranean, or exile, to a Europe in crisis — and, of course, such politics can only be imposed anti-democratically.
And here is why the demonstrations continued the very day after the announcement of Bouteflika, the President who communicates with his people exlusively by letter. The demonstrators are refusing to prolong the fourth mandate until 18 April, and demand again his departure. The general strike, triggered on 10 March, has been maintained; the retaking of the Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens [the country’s major union] by its militants and their base-level structures has a new vigour. The political parties of the left have all refused to adhere to the presidential initiative.
Everything indicates that the people will again take to the streets in massive numbers on 15 March, to shout its rejection of le pouvoir’s manouvering, and maintain its demand for true political change. And, a sign of the times, the ultraliberal oppositon has itself refused Bouteflika’s deal, whilst not entirely acquiescing to the call for a Constiuent Assembly.
National Conference or Sovereign Constituent Assembly?
Against Bouteflika’s manoeuvre —a Siren Call to the political initiative of this Ḥirāk (Movement), meant to intern it within the bureaucratic walls of a national conference — the only democratic solution is to give the floor to the people, not in order simply to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in some referendum, but to decide, following a popular debate, on the election of a fully proportional, sovereign Constituent Assembly. An Assembly, charged with drawing up a draft Constitution, immediately satisfying the social demands of the popular masses, and preserving the interests of the nation in the face of oligarchs and imperialism. The slogans chanted by the protesters are particularly clear to the imperialist powers — they express a clear refusal of their interference, whether manifested in the form of support for Bouteflika (France), or the hypocritical support for the movement (Washington).
Maintain the movement and formulate a popular political perspective
Today, everyone is aware of the trap set by Bouteflika. The demonstration of March 15 will be a test of whether the movement is able to effectively express its refusal of yet another pouvoir scheme. This is why the political and social forces, all the tendencies together, have so prepared for this mobilisation, so that it can be as huge and as combative possible.
More than ever, unity is required in the popular movement. But both the political parties (Parti Travailleur, Front des Forces socialistes, Parti socialiste des travailleurs) and the social forces (unions, movements, and associations) — those who fight for the defence of national sovereignty in the face of imperialism, and for popular sovereignty and social justice in the face of authoritarianism and liberal policies — must urgently converge to constitute a meaningful pole, that can ensure that the movement is neither misguided nor side-lined. Sooner or later, the classes and fractions of the dominant classes, whether they support the existing powers or the opposition, will find common ground, and pass a compromise to defend their interests, preventing the popular classes —with the [industrial] workers at the fore — from offering a democratic, social (anti-liberal), and national (anti-imperialist) perspective.
This popular pole, to be built in a situation of general mistrust towards the parties, must have the power to:
- Increase the pressure on le pouvoir by strengthening the mobilisation, popular self-organization, and the general strike.
- Denounce the national conference, which aims to plaster over the faults of the regime, and oppose it with the demand for a sovereign Constituent Assembly.
- Encourage the (fundamental) recuperation of the UGTA, and hence the self-organisation of citizens (students, journalists, lawyers, judges).
- Propagate the idea of setting up a union front, bringing together the militants of a renovated UGTA and those of the autonomous militant unions, in order that the working class plays a central political role in the mobilisation.
- Mobilise en masse every Friday, in all the wilayat [provinces] of the country.
- Block imperialist interference, regardless of the form in it they presents it: Whether it be the support from the French government given to Bouteflika, or US support for the movement — the Algerian people do not need the hypocritical, poisoned support of Washington.
Algiers, 13 mars 2019.
Orignally published by Contretemps
Translated by Joe Hayns and Roberto Mozzachiodi