x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Algeria’s youth must tell the old order: Enough

Algeria's youth have already started to emulate Egypt's Kefaya movement. That is a promising start

The man expected to lead Algeria for a fourth term has finally been seen in public. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has led the energy-rich North African state since 1999, cast his ballot in yesterday’s presidential elections.

Mr Bouteflika, 77, had only made two appearances during this campaign, both on television. His appearance, in a wheelchair, will only compound concerns about his health. He has been unwell for several years. Opposing him are five candidates, none of whom are well-known. The opposition front-runner, former prime minister Ali Benflis, is also part of the older generation and has campaigned using fiery language (talking of his “army” of supporters “armed to the teeth with conviction”) – inexplicable in a country that still remembers the horrors of the civil war of the 1990s.

Algeria is the only North African country unaffected by the Arab Spring, although neighbouring Morocco instituted reforms. But many of the underlying tensions that fuelled the revolutions exist in Algeria, despite its immense energy reserves. Most Algerians are young and do not connect with Mr Bouteflika’s generation. Many shunned the election, with some political parties and movements urging a boycott.

This is understandable, but a mistake for the young. There is an opportunity over the next five years of Mr Bouteflika’s term to organise and prepare. It should not be squandered. Now is the time to form political parties, formulate policies and cultivate grass roots support.

Some organising has already begun. Two months ago, a youth group called Barakat was founded, modelled explicitly on the Egyptian movement Kefaya. (Both are colloquial versions of the same word: Enough.) Kefaya was formed against the backdrop of the 2005 Egyptian election and played a big role in organising the protests that led to the 2011 revolution.

Barakat, and other groups like it, should have similar goals – to bring about political change, but through the ballot box. Walking away from politics by boycotting it would be to cede the ground to an older generation – a political generation that led the country through a civil war, but that now seems to have few answers to invigorating Algeria’s economy.

This morning, in all probability, Mr Bouteflika will wake up to his 16th year as president, despite a low turnout. If Algeria’s youth are sensible, one of their own could be ready to replace him in five years.