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Algeria's 'smile revolution' boils below the radar

Austin Bay on

Algeria's first nationwide protest occurred Friday, Feb. 22, some 16 days after then-President (for life) Abdelaziz Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FNL) caregivers published a letter announcing the hospitalized stroke victim would run for a fifth term in 2019.

By mid-March, even the FNL's hardened, corrupt old guard realized "the Friday protests" opposing Bouteflika and his clique had become a careful but powerful mass insurrection.

On April 2, the Friday protests, protests on other weekdays and a general strike forced Bouteflika to resign the presidency. He was said to be receiving treatment in a Swiss hospital. The acting prime minister appointed an interim government whose president would hold office until July.

But the protests didn't end. Oct. 4 marked 33 straight Fridays with anti-government demonstrations in Algeria's major cities and towns. Though observers report the number of protestors has begun to dwindle, everyone expects demonstrations will occur Oct. 11 and continue at least until the Dec. 12 presidential election. And yes, the interim government remains in power, though it lacks constitutional authority.

The comparative restraint exhibited by both demonstrators and government forces, and the lack -- so far -- of deadly violence (some injuries have occurred), may explain why Algerian Spring 2019 rates cursory in international media coverage. French media are the exception; they have noticed both the stakes and the restraint. The French magazine Le Point dubbed Algeria's revolt "the smile revolution." Algerian military leaders know shooting protestors risks igniting civil war.

The "if it bleeds, it leads" news media are missing a consequential social and political event that is Algeria's most serious and genuine civil rebellion since the 1950s and '60s when France tried to suppress Algeria's independence movement (which, ironically, was led by the FNL).

 

Algeria 2019 does run the risk of renewed civil war, but it also has the potential to bring meaningful change to its citizenry that is well-educated, informed and tech-savvy, and sick of insider corruption, police brutality and judicial malfeasance.

Tech-savvyness spurred the Feb. 22 nationwide protests. The first big anti-Bouteflika protest occurred Feb. 16 in a single town. Internet access, social media and phone calls spread the news and then catalyzed and linked the Feb. 22 protests, the capital, Algiers, being the key venue.

Between 2 and 3 million people participated in the March 1 protests. Algeria has 43 million people, so roughly 5 to 6% of the country took to the streets.

French and Algerian media report the majority of demonstrators are overwhelmingly young people in their late teens, 20s or early 30s -- Algerians who want a future. The age demographic is one reason army generals believe most of the soldiers and junior officers side with the demonstrators.

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Copyright 2019 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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