2019 Algerian protests

2019 Algerian protests
Manifestation contre le 5e mandat de Bouteflika (Blida).jpg
Protesters on 10 March 2019 in Blida
Date16 February 2019 (2019-02-16) – ongoing (63 days)
Location
Caused by
  • Opposition to President Bouteflika's 5th term, regime and corruption
Goals
Resulted in
  • Bouteflika drops bid for fifth term
  • Resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia
  • Presidential elections postponed indefinitely
  • Government of national unity formed to write new constitution
  • Army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah calls on the constitutional council to remove Bouteflika from office
  • Resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Parties to the civil conflict
Protesters
Lead figures
  • No organized leadership
Casualties
Death(s)2[2][3] (under unclear circumstances)
Injuries183 (112 police officers)[1]
Arrested195[4][1]

The 2019 Algerian protests, also called the Smile Revolution,[5][6] began on 16 February 2019, ten days after Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his candidacy for a fifth presidential term in a signed statement.

These protests, without precedent since the Algerian Civil War, have been peaceful[7][8] and led the military to insist on Bouteflika's immediate resignation, which took place on 2 April 2019.[9]

Background

Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, The former President of Algeria from 1999 to 2019.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been president of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria since 1999. Two amnesties (via referendum) for former combatants in the Algerian Civil War had taken place during his presidency (1999 and 2005). This "dirty war" between Islamic guerrillas and the government had claimed up to 200,000 lives from 1991–2002.[10] Nearly half of the Algerian population was born after the end of the conflict, amidst the din of repeated corruption scandals.

With the accession to power of Bouteflika in 1999, he began a diplomatic mission to rehabilitate Algeria's image abroad, and especially after his reelection in 2004, to consolidate power.[11] Over his tenure as president, the power center in Algerian politics shifted from the east to west, most particularly to Tlemcen, whose sons became highly placed media, political, and police figures. $10 billion of public funding flowed to the city for construction projects, including a university, hotels, museums and airports. €155m was spent on a state residence, which remains incomplete. Many of the public works contracts were accorded to Chinese companies by whom local contractors were allegedly not always paid.[12]

Oil-rich during the Arab Spring, the government was able to quiet dissent during the 2010–2012 protests with increased spending.[13]

University of Tlemcen

The constitutional revision of 2016 limited the number of presidential terms that could be served to two, but nevertheless allowed Bouteflika to seek a fifth term, because the law was not retroactive.[14]

Since 2005, and especially after his stroke in 2013, Bouteflika's ability to govern the country was called into question: rumors of his death were frequent as he was often hospitalized, no longer spoke and made very few written statements.[15] In this context, some Algerians considered his announced candidacy for the presidential election, originally scheduled for 18 April 2019, to be humiliating.[16]

Corruption

Members of Bouteflika's administration have been accused of engaging in corrupt practices at several instances. In 2010, Sonatrach, the state-owned oil and gas company, suspended all of its senior management after two of the company's vice-presidents were imprisoned for corruption. Algeria's Energy Minister Chakib Khelil announced that the president of the company and several executives have been placed under judicial supervision.[17] In 2013, Khelil was also accused of receiving a bribe from a subsidiary of the Italian energy company Eni.[18] According to El Watan, overbilling for public works and misleading descriptions of imported goods are two common corrupt practices, facilitated by cronyism at the highest levels.[19]

On 26 June 2018, Bouteflika dismissed Abdelghani Hamel as head of the national police (DGSN), despite the latter being part of his inner circle. This news came after one of Hamel's drivers had become a suspect in Cocainegate, which led a general of the gendarmerie, four judges and two public prosecutors to be tried for bribery.[20][21]

Monumentalism

Djamaa el Djazaïr, a large mosque under construction in Algiers, is nicknamed the Great Mosque of Bouteflika. Its minaret is 55m higher than the Hassan II Mosque in Morocco. Though its construction was touted as an Algerian job-creater, immigrant workers did most of the work for China State Construction Engineering while living in prefab shantytowns around the construction site. The project still came in 2.5 times over-budget. A doctor quoted in Le Monde complained that "with $4 billion, 200 hospitals could have been built." Converting the mosque into a hospital has been suggested. For the Algerian press, it became a symbol of the mis-management of public funds and of the "capricious megalomania" of the former President.[22][23][24]

Broadly, cumulative demands, grievances and aspirations were at the heart of the protest movement. Decades long of economic stagnation, unemployment, labour market segmentation, chronic corruption fuelled discontent. Plummeting of oil and gas prices weakened the regime's capacity to continue buying off some sections of the lower classes and the youth and contain discontent.[25]